Updated on 02/28/2013 10:28AM

Santa Anita Handicap: Called to Serve returns an improved horse

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Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Called to Serve, here winning the Discovery at Aqueduct in November, began his career in California.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Called to Serve behaved like a kid when he arrived at trainer Nick Canani’s Belmont Park stable last fall.

“He was quite a handful,” Canani recalled.

The gelding had finished third in the West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Park in August and third in the Oklahoma Derby at Remington Park in late September when owner Marc Ferrell moved him from trainer Peter Eurton in California to the Eastern-based Canani.

Canani thought Called to Serve needed to mature and settle down. The solution was long morning walks during training hours on the Belmont Park backstretch. The result was a more relaxed colt who went on to win two stakes at the end of 2012. The next goal is Saturday’s $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap, the first start in a Grade 1 for Called to Serve.

“I can’t wait for it to get here,” Canani said last weekend.

A victory by Called to Serve, 4, would be a unique chapter of Big Cap history – the first time a father and a son have won the track’s signature race for older horses. Julio Canani won the 1989 Big Cap with the upset winner Martial Law. Nick Canani, now 39, was 15 at the time.

“I remember being in the winner’s circle,” he said. “I remember it rained that day.”

Nick Canani was based in Southern California at the start of his training career and now has 16 horses at Belmont Park. When Called to Serve joined the team, the training plan was designed to calm the horse, who had won twice in Southern California in spring 2012 after being gelded in February of that year.

“My whole staff spent a lot of time with him,” Canani said. “All that time with him seemed to pay off.

“I think the horse developed mentally. It took a couple of weeks. Everybody could see a bit of a change. It took a couple of weeks to take the edge off and get him to enjoy what he’s doing.”

Called to Serve was beaten a nose in the Temperence Hill Stakes at Belmont Park last October in his first start for Canani. He has not lost since, winning the Grade 3 Discovery Handicap at Aqueduct in November and the Broad Brush Stakes at Laurel in December.

Those stakes wins were at 1 1/8 miles. The Big Cap is run over 1 1/4 miles, the first time that Called to Serve will have run that far.

“I think the mile and a quarter is not going to be an issue,” Canani said.

Canani gained confidence from Called to Serve’s patient style of winning the Discovery and Broad Brush with an off-the-pace rally.

“He did it the right way,” Canani said. “He relaxed early and finished well.”

Canani brought Called to Serve to California in early February, far enough in advance of Saturday’s race for two workouts. Jockey Gary Stevens rode Called to Serve in his workouts, giving him a chance to get to know a gelding he will ride for the first time Saturday.

“Every horse is different,” Canani said. “I think getting him here well before the race, working twice, and settling into the scenery are positives for him.”

Called to Serve’s former trainer, Eurton, based at Santa Anita, has watched with interest as his former charge has trained for Saturday’s race. Eurton recalled that Called to Serve was a colt with “a lot of nervous energy” before he was gelded.

Eurton said that lengthy travel from California to races in Oklahoma and West Virginia took its toll on Called to Serve last year.

“He’s still a fresh and good-feeling horse,” Eurton said. “He’s not a lazy horse. He’s still playful.

“I’m happy for Marc, but I wish he was still part of my barn.”

After the Big Cap, Called to Serve will head back to New York, where Canani expects him to run in such major stakes as the $350,000 Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park on July 6; the two $750,000 stakes at Saratoga, the Whitney Handicap on Aug. 3 and the Woodward Stakes on Aug. 31; and the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park on Sept. 28.

Ideally, Called to Serve would be back at Santa Anita for the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 2.

A win on Saturday against top-class rivals Game On Dude, defending champion Ron the Greek, and Richard’s Kid would prove that he belongs in those races. Canani already thinks he does.

“There is no question in my mind,” Canani said.

“He’s a completely different horse. His demeanor in the paddock is different. He’s a different horse in the afternoon. He turned from a green 3-year-old to a mature 4-year-old.”

An earlier version of this article misstated the date of the Suburban Handicap. It will be run on July 6.

Michael More than 1 year ago
The Dude will be tuff, but anything could happen, that's why they run.
Cover2 More than 1 year ago
The 1 & 1/4 might not be a problema, but class and the race will ! Won't hit the board.. ,,,going with a hunch O'Neill dick's kid & juapo miguel....criss/cross tri...ron greka
jttf More than 1 year ago
sorry, but i am not a fan of nick canani. didnt he use to train for michael gill and frank calabrese ? so i am going with game on dude, and guilt trip on top. with ron the greek and richards kid to follow.
Marc Ferrell More than 1 year ago
A big thank you to all those on DRF who gave me some good input and direction on where to run Called to Serve after the Broad Brush. We are aware that he will have to step up big time to beat Game on Dude and Ron the Greek but you cannot take that step if you don't try. Having Stevens on board and 8 pounds on Game on Dude is a major plus for us. If the pace is slow we will be closer, if it is fast back further. There are a thousand ways to lose and only one way to win. PP draws are tomorrow and would love to be outside.
Kevin Smith More than 1 year ago
Best of luck!!!!!
Greg McCann More than 1 year ago
Good Luck. See him home in Saratoga.
Kendra Mcallister More than 1 year ago
Every owner has the right to dream good luck Mr. Ferrell
Marc Ferrell More than 1 year ago
I agree so much of this game is just that.
James Pugliese More than 1 year ago
Thanks for bringing him out west to run,IT SHOULD BE A GREAT RACE!
fbwinners More than 1 year ago
This is no disrespect to the West Coast horses. But it seems when the East Coast horses ship in the Dude goes down. Take a look at the BC Classic and then Dullahan ran by him like he was standing still at Del Mar over the sticky stuff. I think the way CTS has worked of late and gets a great PP it's his race to lose this weekend. I can tell you one thing the price will be right and it's time to pur your betting shoes on this Saturday. Good Luck!!!!!!!!
uwgb08 More than 1 year ago
Another thing that those races have in common is that they were 1 1/4 miles. I love Game on Dude, but I think he is vulnerable at this distance to a horse that has great closing speed.
ENAMMELD More than 1 year ago
In the BC Classic he was running against 5 horses who were simply better. Four of them fired. Fort Larned took him out of his game early and MMM put him away at the 3/4. In this race he meets RTG who at this time of the year rounds into top form. GOD is a good horse who just got beat by better, as it looks will happen again in the CAP when he hooks up with RTG. As for CTS out kicking the greek, I don't think that will happen, but it could, that's why they run em on the track as well as the form. gl
Thomas Cook More than 1 year ago
In your corner all the way. Nice works getting him ready. Think he's one-two...
Marc Ferrell More than 1 year ago
Thanks Thomas, I hope your right.
David Robinson More than 1 year ago
good luck to you. i have been following this horse since his first start. after he ran 3rd i believe the first week of the santa meet last year, i bet two horses in the future book in jan. to win the derby. i bet 150 dollars on fed biz at 40-1 and 50 dollars on called to serve at 250-1 with bodog sportsbook. i knew this was a good horse. then fedbiz got sick and this guy, well, i dont know what happend. i watched him get a horrible 4 wide trip ride in a mdn. race against castaway over an inside speed favoring track at 7-2 i believe, and then come back and get beat about 300 lengths in a turf race. when the anita meet ended i stopped following the thoroughbreds and went back to playing qtr. horses whick is my normal cup of tea. obviously i lost track of this guy and never thought twice about him until a few weeks ago when i was rerading drf and saw his name. i am stuck about 1200 dollars on this guy now and have never cashed a ticket on him and now he is one of the contenfers in the santa anita handicap!! i dont know whether to laugh or cry.but this is how my luck in futures usualy works. reguardless, good luck and if he wins at least you will know why.................. im not betting again!!
[removed] More than 1 year ago
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David Robinson More than 1 year ago
change your underwear
Marc Ferrell More than 1 year ago
Thanks for following him. As an owner in this game it is such and up and down position we are in. I had him at Keeneland as a 2 year old and he was very impressive in the AM and then he reared up and split his head open on a pipe in the stall which required surgery so he was turned out then developed pneumonia and lost a ton of weight. Then to have to geld a $290k purchase was tough. So I emphasize with the bettors, its hard to chase one into a bigger hole. He is training better than ever, working lights out but like I said earlier, anything can happen from a wide trip, bad start, etc and against this quality you need to get it right on race day.
Terry McHone More than 1 year ago
You have taken the right approach. Being a California girl, the Cap is where he belongs. Good decision to get Stevens on board.
Marc Ferrell More than 1 year ago
Thanks Terry
SINNtilator More than 1 year ago
Good luck Mr. Ferrell. I hope CTS makes you proud on Saturday! Yeah there are alot on here who are saying your horse is up against it but I'm pretty sure alot of people said the same thing two years ago about Game On Dude in the 2011 'Cap and he did not have the credentials coming into that race that yours does now.
Marc Ferrell More than 1 year ago
Thank you. We are the improving horse how truly wants this distance but the others can step up as well.
Billy Spathanas More than 1 year ago
Good Luck to you Marc Ferrell, it is a good feeling to know your horse is getting good at the right time(, I know that feeling well).Great to see him ship in early, .not to mention that Cananni is pumped, thats a good thing to. Old man Gary Stevens, thats a good thing to, I am sure you all got your "A" Game going into this race as every contender here will bring it on Saturday ......
Marc Ferrell More than 1 year ago
Thank you Billy. We are ready to go. Hopefully that is good enough we are looking to a competitive event.
Jordan More than 1 year ago
As a California fan who believes the Big Cap is either the #1 or #2 race for open horses in North America outside the BC Classic, I thank you for bringing Called to Serve back here and running in the Big Cap. The race was going to be good with Game on Dude and Ron the Greek topping the marque, but Called to Serve gives the field a healthy #3 star. Guilt Trip, Stephanoatsee, and 3-time grade 1 winner Richard's Kid are solid horses in their own right. And Handsome Mike will add a pace component to the race, and I think he will run better than he did in the San Fernando or Strub. Clubhouse Ride has never won a graded stakes, but he's a very tough and versatile sort and is in the best form of his career. Deacon Speakin and John Scott are the only automatic throw-outs, imo.
Marc Ferrell More than 1 year ago
Thanks Jordan. I agree it will be a good race and a very diverse field. From Grade 1 winners to a claiming horse from Pender. Thats what racing is all about, taking a shot when you think your horse is doing well.
Jerome Moynihan More than 1 year ago
hope he can make it a horse race,but he doesn't want to relax too much early if he hopes to run down the DUDE.
Kendra Mcallister More than 1 year ago
looks like both horse and trainer needed maturing, what ever happen to those positive test the trainer got? a while back
Horse Cents More than 1 year ago
It was 2 1/2 years ago. Non steroidal anti inflamatory . Fined and did 30 days. Barely on the radar of worst offenders.
First Lasy More than 1 year ago
How about that $7,100 you never paid? Haters in glass houses shouldn't throw stones http://www.chrb.ca.gov/Stewards/Minutes/Minutes_Golden_Gate/Minutes_GG_11_05_07.pdf
Bellwether4U More than 1 year ago
Tic Tock and "The Big Cap' Baby!!!...
Eric Rickard More than 1 year ago
We shall see. Hope he has some of his dad's magic!
Terry McHone More than 1 year ago
Me too. I watched called to serve in the west Virginia and thought he might be one of those horses that just needed a little more seasoning. Loved his daddy.