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Stevens to Ride Called to Serve in Big 'Cap

Jockey Gary Stevens

The Santa Anita Handicap, a race already steeped in history, could enhance its luster when it is run this year on March 2.

If Ron the Greek meets Game On Dude as anticipated, it would mark the first time in the race’s 76 runnings that two previous Big ’Cap winners meet in the classic race. Ron the Greek won last year, while Game On Dude won in 2011.

And if Called to Serve runs and wins, it would be the first time a father and son won the Santa Anita Handicap. Nick Canani trains Called to Serve. His father, Santa Anita-based Julio, saddled Martial Law to a 50-1 upset in 1989.

Toss in the fact that a soon-to-be 50-year-old jockey (March 6) making his comeback after a seven-year absence rides Called to Serve, and you’ve got an abundance of storylines that Hollywood producers might reject as “too fictional.”

Whatever unfolds, Gary Stevens has been named to ride Called to Serve in the Grade I, $750,000 Santa Handicap at a mile and a quarter. Stevens worked the 4-year-old gelding on Santa Anita’s fast main track Saturday morning, going six furlongs in a bullet 1:13.40. Private clocker Gary Young got Called to Serve galloping out seven furlongs in 1:27 1/5.

“I was very happy with the way he went,” Canani said. “The horse has acclimated great since coming from the East Coast (Feb. 5). He’s shipped really well and he’s had nine or 10 days to get over the race track. We’ll breeze him back a week from today and then run a week from Saturday.”

Asked what significance it would have to follow in his 76-year-old father’s footsteps and win the Big ’Cap, Nick, 39, said, “Yeah, 100 percent. I don’t think there have ever been a father and son to win it, so that would mean a lot.”

Stevens, meanwhile, is no stranger to winning the Big ’Cap, having captured the race four times, in 1991 on Ruhlmann for Charlie Whittingham; in 1992 on Farma Way for D. Wayne Lukas; in 1995 on Urgent Request for Rodney Rash; and in 2005 aboard Rock Hard Ten for Richard Mandella.

Stevens obtained the mount due to a conflict in the schedule of Joel Rosario, who had ridden Called to Serve to daylight victories in his last two starts, the Grade III Discovery Handicap at Aqueduct last Nov. 17 and the Broad Brush at Laurel on Dec. 31.

“Rosario would have ridden him, but he has to go to New York that day, so he had a conflict,” explained Stevens’ agent, John Perrotta. “That was fortuitous for us.” Said Canani: “As far as replacing Rosario, who better can we get than Gary Stevens?”



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