02/14/2012 3:00PM

Santa Anita: Carava regroups in new territory

Shigeki Kikkawa
Creative Cause, winner of the Norfolk, is among the competitors American Act will face in the San Vicente.

ARCADIA, Calif. – A rebuilding year has also become a season of firsts for Southern California trainer Jack Carava.

In the last three months, Carava’s stable has been halved from approximately 40 horses to 20 following the abrupt departure from racing of Ron Valenta’s La Canada Stable last November. In the wake of that development, Carava reassembled a list of clients, some old and some new.

Two of the new clients, Howard and Janet Siegel, own a promising 3-year-old in American Act, a starter for Carava in Sunday’s $150,000 San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita. The Grade 2 San Vicente is a prep for the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 7.

For Carava, 45, this is new territory. He has never had a contender for the Santa Anita Derby in nearly 20 years of training.

“I’ve had some good older horses,” he said. “This is the first 3-year-old I’ve had. It’s always been good older horses.”

American Act, a gelding by Quiet American, has one win in three starts, a maiden race over 5 1/2 furlongs on Jan. 16, It has turned out to be a productive race. Bodemeister, who finished second, returned to win a one-mile maiden race by an eye-catching 9 1/4 lengths last Saturday. Immaculate, who finished ninth, won a maiden race on Feb. 4.

American Act was seventh in his debut at Santa Anita in November and then second in a maiden race on turf at Hollywood Park on Dec. 10 before his maiden race win.

“The first time we gave him a race, and the second time he was a good second,” Carava said. “He looked pretty impressive [winning]. It’s turned out to be a strong race. I think he’s a good horse.”

American Act will need to be better than good in the San Vicente. The race is expected to include Creative Cause, the winner of the Grade 1 Norfolk Stakes here in October and the third-place finisher in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs in October. Drill, the winner of the Del Mar Futurity last September, is also expected to run.

Sunday’s race will determine how Carava and the Siegels proceed with American Act.

“We’ll get an acid test,” Carava said. “Pedigree-wise, he may run long. He’s got a stride like a route horse. It’s a good progression. If he runs well, we can take it to the next step. The race will tell us how we go forward.”

Carava spent late fall rebuilding his operation, and continues to do so. He was a private trainer for Valenta in recent years, winning such races as the $250,000 Sunshine Millions Oaks at Santa Anita with Beltene. Most of the La Canada-Carava horses were claimers, and the partnership worked in that capacity. La Canada led all owners by wins at the 2010-2011 Santa Anita winter-spring meeting and again at the Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting last year.

Carava said he was stunned by Valenta’s decision. “He didn’t say much,” Carava said at Santa Anita last weekend. “He said it was a business-oriented decision.”

A call to Valenta’s Pasadena, Calif., office earlier this week was not returned.

Without Valenta, Carava found himself with a barn full of horses and no owners. He acquired some of the horses himself, racing under the name Oakhart Stable. “It’s the street I live on,” Carava said. “I had to make a quick decision.”

Slowly, other owners joined his stable. When some horses were claimed from Carava, they were not replaced, hastening the decline in stable size. “You don’t wake up with a barnful the next day,” Carava said. “It’s hard to build it back up. It’s a slow process.”

The Siegels have six or seven horses, Carava still owns five, and others are owned by individuals or small partnerships.

American Act is the stable star, Carava says. He is only a maiden race winner. By Sunday, he could be much more.