Friday, March 9, 2012

Jorge Navarro, Trainer
Although he has trained on his own for only four years, recent Hurricane Grill & Wings Trainer of the Month Award recipient Jorge Navarro is far from a newcomer to Thoroughbred racing. Navarro absorbed his fundamental knowledge from his stepfather, long-time Florida trainer Julian Canet, who won the 1996 Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs with long shot Mindy Gayle. His step-grandfather, Osvaldo Canet, won training titles at River Downs and Beulah Park in Ohio in the 1960s. Navarro, who started as a hot walker and groom for his stepfather, was an assistant for three years to Sam David Jr. at Fair Grounds, then worked as a veterinary assistant for three years. Following another four-year stint as an assistant trainer, Navarro broke young horses in Ocala before he felt comfortable going out on his own. Last year he won 23 races at Tampa Bay Downs to finish fifth in the standings. His wife Jennifer is the daughter of a trainer and formerly worked as an exercise rider. They have two daughters – Taylor, 13 and Miah, 2 – and a 3-year-old son, Jorge. Navarro has a daughter and son from a previous marriage who live in Miami.

A lot of what I know I learned from the old-time trainers, like my stepfather, Julian Canet. We came to the United States from Panama City in 1988 and went to Michigan, where he trained at the old Detroit Race Course. Kids weren’t allowed on the backside, but we went to the races on weekends. That is where my brother Marcial – who is also a trainer – and I fell in love with the horses.
My stepdad taught me how to take care of a horse. He was a good leg man. What are the keys to it? Working hard, getting on your knees and taking care of them, looking for heat or signs of bruises. Heat in their legs is usually a sign that something is wrong, that there might be filling in their joints. You want their legs to feel nice and tight and cold.
My employees and I believe in taking as much time as a horse needs to get ready for a race. I think a lot of younger-generation trainers lean a lot on the vet and don’t believe as much in working with an animal. It’s the same thing as a boxer – you’ve got to work with them and take care of them.
A lot of our horses might spend 30-45 minutes a day standing in an ice tub, soothing their joints. It’s like when you get up in the mornings – you have to take a couple of steps to get going. It’s the same thing with these horses. As a trainer, you get to know them so well that sometimes they’ll walk out of the stall and you’ll say ‘Whoa, what happened?’ and then they’ll do another turn (of the shed row) and they’ll be fine.
When you’ve got guys like I have, you don’t have many problems. I have four grooms, two hot walkers and two exercise riders, plus a good blacksmith, and they make it real easy for me. My workers are my secret. There is no medicine that is going to make horses run better. They are the ones who check the legs and tell me what they see. There are days when I’ll tell a groom ‘I’m going to run him’ and they’ll say ‘No, boss, not yet.’
I’ve got to listen to them. In most cases, they spend more time with the horses than I do. One of the realities of running a racing stable is that you deal with a lot of paperwork and talking with owners and planning the training schedules. When anybody asks me why we’re doing so well, I say ‘It’s them, my workers.’ They know they make more money when we win, and that keeps them going, too.
When I became a veterinary assistant for Dr. Jonathan Allen, I already was an assistant trainer, but it helped me get a better feel for the game. I also got to see how many mistakes trainers make, doing things that aren’t necessary to get a horse ready to race. Breaking horses in Ocala was another step toward getting more understanding.
The biggest thing in breaking young horses, as in so many parts of this sport, is patience. It probably took me three weeks to get a horse ready for the track. I would start with about six horses, then when we got to the next week I’d keep progressing with them and start with six new ones.
It will take you about a month to get them going, and it will take a bad rider to get them to go south in one minute. And they’ll carry that for the rest of their lives. That’s the way these animals are.
The claiming game is very challenging, but it’s something I enjoy because it tests your ability to evaluate horses. You can go into slumps, and that’s the time you really have to believe in what you’re doing. A claiming trainer has to spend time studying the condition book the right way.
There is more to it than training your horse up to a race and picking out the right spot. Once the meeting gets rolling, you usually know what kind of horses enter a certain race. Now, I’ll run against anybody, but with a guy like (Tampa Bay Downs leading trainer) Jamie Ness, you might try to avoid some of the spots you think he is going to, because he has some good horses. He is a good trainer, and he has an owner (Richard Papiese of Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc.) who knows how to play the game.
So if he runs second and you run third and you think he’s going to wheel his horse back in a certain race, you’ve got to figure out what’s best for your horse.
If you want to be in the claiming game, you had better put in some serious money because people are going to claim your good horses and you’re going to lose money on the cheaper horses. With the right owners who want to do it the right way, it’s a lot of fun.
I have three very good owners in Julian De Mora, Juan Matos (Blue Top Holding Stables) and Charles Justi. They know you can’t fall in love with the horses. If you claim a good one, manage him good. But if you claim a bad one, part of the game is you want to lose him. You’ve got to play the right way to stay in the business.
You have to be careful because you are always going to claim a bad one. I’m not going to claim a horse just because it drops in price. An owner of mine once said ‘How many times can you go in the cookie jar?’ and I always think about that every time I make a claim.
I don’t want to mention any favorites, because someone might claim them from me! But I have a couple of horses who have been with me a few years and are still winning. I broke (6-year-old gelding) Alkazabito when he was in Ocala, and he has won eight races. He has his problems, but if I don’t work with him, where is he going to go?
People ask me, ‘What are you doing to win races?’ and I say, ‘Come to the barn and see.’ I don’t do anything special. We work, and we spend money on shavings and hay and feed and supplements. We make sure they get their electrolytes in the morning. My guy over there, he is taking his time with the supplements – not just dumping it into their feed. When you do that, a lot of them back away from their feed and start losing weight. That is why we take our time and try to give them everything orally.
There is something about this track my horses love. I have horses that come from elsewhere with problems, and the problems go away. I don’t know the track superintendent (Tom McLaughlin), but he is one of the best I’ve seen.
I have a 24-horse stable, and that is just about the right size. My family lives in Ocala, and it is a challenge spending as much time with them as I’d like to. I’m staying down here this season instead of driving home every night, and they hate it. But we’re doing good, Ocala is a great place to live and Jennifer and I both know how hard this game is.
Her father, James Harris, was a trainer, and her mother trained too, so she came from horses like me. A couple of years ago I was on the computer watching replays, and she came and said ‘Is there ever going to be time for us?’
I was like, wow. We both know this is the only way you’re going to be successful. But I want to keep everything manageable. I want to have a life, to be able to make time for my family and the kids.

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