02/01/2010 12:00AM

Trainer profile: Julio Canani


Julio Canani is, well, complicated. He's Lee Trevino, John McEnroe, and Charles Barkley all rolled into one. When he's in a good mood, he's as funny and engaging as anyone. When things don't go his way, however, such as seeing one of his trainees getting a ride he didn't think was produced by a Mensa candidate, he could be surly and testy, and would let you know it. Just ask Garrett Gomez. Gomez guided Loup Breton to victory in the Grade 2 San Marcos Handicap at Santa Anita a couple weeks ago, but only after extricating that runner from traffic. Julio was none too happy Gomez had him there in the first place.

But there is one thing about Canani that is not complicated. The man can flat train.

He has been a stalwart among the elite Southern California trainers for the past 30 years or so, and a look up and down his statistics tells you why. He has been strong in all categories, on all surfaces. He has made a national name for himself with such stars as Silic and Val Royal, who gave him back-to-back wins in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Mile, and guiding Sweet Catomine to an Eclipse Award as top 2-year-old filly when she won the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. His work with her, as well as The Pamplemousse last year, brought him fame, but some criticism. There's no doubt, however, when a Canani runner shows up, at any level on any surface in any situation, you'd best sit up and take notice.

Canani, a 71-year-old Peruvian native, has, like so many trainers, humble beginnings. He first walked hots as a kid in Peru, but left there at age 16 when that country became embroiled in political unrest. He got a job as a gardener when he first came to the United States. He lasted a day. He managed, however, to make ends meet.

"I also washed dishes and cleaned," he said.

He moved to California in 1963, ended up pumping gas while chasing his dream to be an actor. It did not materialize.

His background with horses brought him back to the racetrack. He was hired on by A.T. "Tommy" Doyle to walk hots, and after a few years under his tutelage got his trainer's license in 1968. Things weren't a breeze then, either. Canani managed his way by selling carrots in the stable area, doing calls and results for Spanish-language radio stations, and, showing his keen eye, betting on the horses.

He was a lot like his friend Bobby Frankel, for whom he also worked. He began with claimers and proved to have an adroit eye. That led to more success, and by the last 1980s he was firmly ensconced among the Southern California training elite. On his 50th birthday, he won his first Grade 1, saddling Silver Circus to win the 1988 Hollywood Derby. The next spring he would post a monumental upset in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap, bringing Martial Law, a European invader, who was a monstrous winner at 51-1. The likes of Davie's Lamb, Wilmar, and Patchy Groundfog (Bill Shoemaker's final mount in 1990) set the foundation. More top-class winners followed: Ladies Din, Tuzla, Special Ring, Amorama, Tranquility Lake, Hyperbaric, Astarabad, Putting, and Blackdoun. He flirted with history last summer at Del Mar when his Anabaa's Creation almost beat undefeated champion Zenyatta.

For now, his biggest and baddest horse is Loup Breton. The European raider, who knocked heads with some of Europe's best, has made an immediate impression in the United States. He won his first stateside start, an allowance race at Hollywood Park, in dazzling fashion. He was second in the Grade 2 San Gabriel at Santa Anita on Dec. 27 at a trip short of what he prefers (1 1/8 miles). That was remedied in the Grade 2 San Marcos. There he got 10 furlongs and relished it, overcoming the aforementioned troubled trip. Canani has spoken in glowing terms of the import, saying he could be the type who could have a say in a race like the Grade 1 Arlington Million in August.