The Odd Couple - by Dan Liebman

Personality-wise, Jimmy Jerkens and Julio Canani have little in common. But this week the two trainers have one important thing in common: Each has a Derby horse in his barn.

Thousands of races will be run at racetracks throughout the land over the next two months, but most of our attention will be focused on the preps that lead to Louisville, Ky., for the May 2 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).

There are races worth more money than the Derby. There are races some believe are more prestigious. Maybe races more meaningful when it comes to predicting success in the breeding shed. But there is no race worth more glory, no race a trainer would rather have on his resumé, and perhaps, no race harder to win.

Getting a 3-year-old ready to run 10 furlongs the first Saturday in May is a training feat. A feat that is noticed.

Derby wins by Unbridled and Street Sense ensured Carl Nafzger’s entry into racing’s Hall of Fame last year, and Derby victories by Silver Charm, Real Quiet, and War Emblem will pave the way for Bob Baffert’s probable induction (voting is ongoing) in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., this August.

Jimmy Jerkens knows about the Hall of Fame, since his father, Allen, was inducted in 1975. At the time, Jimmy Jerkens was all of 16 years old. Just two years later, he would join his father’s staff and for the next 20 years would work as the assistant to the legendary figure long called “The Chief,” and, because of his many big upsets, “The Giant Killer.”

To date, Jimmy Jerkens’ biggest win on the national stage came in 2005, when he saddled Artie Schiller to win the NetJets Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. IT). In 2007 he sent out Corinthian to win the Met Mile (gr. I) over Political Force, trained by his father. Corinthian also won the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.

Seven years before Allen Jerkens went into the Hall of Fame, and nearly 30 years prior to Jimmy Jerkens going out on his own, Julio Canani took out his training license in 1968. Now 70, Canani left his native Peru for Southern California as a 16-year-old fleeing political unrest. He began walking hots and learned to train from the bottom up. On the date of his 50th birthday, Nov. 13, 1988, Canani won his first grade I race, the Hollywood Derby, with Silver Circus.

Since that time, Canani has trained 13 additional grade I winners, three of them taking Breeders’ Cup races: Silic in the 1999 Mile; Val Royal in the 2001 Mile; and champion Sweet Catomine in the 2004 Juvenile Fillies (gr. I).

Jimmy Jerkens is two-for-four in Breeders’ Cup races and Julio Canani is three for 14, both strong strike rates. But the two have something else in common—neither
has started a horse in the Kentucky Derby.

That may be about to change.

On Feb. 28, Jerkens, an East Coast trainer based in New York, sent out Edward Evans’ homebred Quality Road to win the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) in just his third career start. Across the country, Canani saddled The Pamplemousse for his second straight grade III win in the Sham Stakes for the partnership of Alex Solis II, Jeffrey and Bill Strauss, Tom Lenner, Tom Murray, Jess Ravich, Chuck Winner, and David Bienstock.

Each year at this time, owners and trainers get Derby fever. A horse is only 3 once, after all.

Much can go wrong in the next nine weeks, but based on Quality Road’s 4 1⁄4-length win and The Pamplemousse’s six-length score, two trainers with different backgrounds may be spending some time in Kentucky this spring.


Leave a Comment:

Alfred Nuckols, Jr.


  I really enjoyed reading your article. For the first time ever, I will be pulling for a big, gray California horse to win at Santa Anita and follow up with a garland of roses on the first Saturday in May. Of course a big reason for that is because I have the amazing good fortune to stand Kafwain this year, who is the sire of The Pamplemousse. It is very exciting to see a horse come along and do things as easily as The Pamplemousse does them, especially when you see Daddy every morning!    

  Julio Canani is really interesting to talk to since I began speaking with him after The Pamplemousse's maiden win. You really have to be happy for him to have a major Derby contender after all his years of training horses and the way he came up in this sport.

  Another interesting tidbit is that I went and looked at the half-sister that Clarkland Farm had consigned in the Keeneland September Sale, who was by Proud Citizen, because I had a Proud Citizen filly in the same session. She was a big, good looking filly and sold for $200,000, even before The Pamplemousse had run and broken his maiden. You know how excited the Mitchells have to be now to have the dam of a Derby horse!

  Also, Darley raced Kafwain and they are the people who got him off to such a good start at stud, and who stood him when The Pamplemousse was conceived. So, they have to be happy, too, because Kafwain was a homebred for them.

  Tom Stull and Tommy Town Farms are very excited by their good fortune in acquiring Kafwain this past fall and seeing a horse like The Pamplemousse have such an immediate impact on their new stallion and their breeding program.

  It always amazes me about the people that a good horse brings together and who will be pulling for him should he make it to the Kentucky Derby. The Pamplemousse has affected a lot of other people outside of his immediate ownership entourage. And most, if not all, hope to be cheering him down the stretch on May 2nd.

03 Mar 2009 12:58 PM

Alfred, I for one will be cheering him on the first Saturday in May. I've really enjoyed his races and watching him run. The Pamplemousse is such a catchy name and to think it is grapefruit in French is a hoot. I also was a fan of Kafwain so I guess it's fitting to cheer on his son. I wish him the best.

03 Mar 2009 5:48 PM
Judi Tilley - Mechanicsville, VA

Well, there's no doubt that there is talent on the west coast in the body of The Pamplemousse, but as a Virginia homebred myself, I'm going to have to be rooting for Quality Road. I think it's high time that we have another Va-bred (Secretariat being the most famous) that stand in the winners circle with the rose garland. Thank you, Mr. Evans, for keeping your operation in Virginia. We love our horses here and we wish you much success now and in the future. GO QUALITY ROAD!!!

04 Mar 2009 6:50 AM

Mr. Nuckols if you make it to Del Mar stop in at the restaurant The Pamplemousse the food is 5 star.

04 Mar 2009 8:30 AM
Junie Wise,Rocky Road Farm

I hope Julio gets to louisville..He is just the type to spice up Derby Week..I always enjoyed hearing what Lukas said,but this guy will be alot better!!!!!!

04 Mar 2009 3:33 PM

I have become a fan of the Pampelmousse.  Not only for his gorgeous color, but the high-knee action.  He really makes it look easy and like jockey Alex Solis said about him, "he is like a little boy in a man's body."  I do hope he makes it to the KY Derby 'cuz watching and trying to understand Canani is so much fun.  He really made me laugh about his comment on the Pampelmousse's win in the Sham where Scott Hazelton asked him if he thought 'the Moose' can rate, and Canani proudly stated, "Who cares?"  And, how could he get in trouble with the law when nobody understands what he's saying anyway?  I wish him the best and do hope to see him make it to the Derby because who cares if we don't understand him, he will be good entertainment for the industry.

04 Mar 2009 3:52 PM

Virginia needs another BIG winner.

Hope that Quality Road will be that for us.

04 Mar 2009 7:45 PM
Bruce Greene

I'm overjoyed for Julio Canani.  Having had the opportunity to speak to him with the rest of the press corps when covering his ventures to Northern California since the  90s, I can definitely second the notion that Julio will spice up Derby week should everything work out.  I'd secretly root for his horses just to get to interview him after a race.  He's funny, knowledgeable, honest, emotional, and best of all,  accessible.  (at least he was)  Maybe we'll all have a lot of fun this year.  Is that too much to ask?

04 Mar 2009 8:57 PM

I REALLY hope that this horse with be in the kentucky derby..he has so much potential its beyond me

i'm speechless

-i'm counting on him !!!!

06 Mar 2009 4:22 PM
Alfred Nuckols, Jr.


Thank you for your kind comments and support for The Pamplemousse. Let's hope that the big boy can continue to improve and Alex Solis gets his chance to win a Kentucky Derby!

Ms. Tilley,

Thank you for your high recommendation for The Pamplemousse restaurant. I hope to eventually make it to Del Mar for the races one of these days and would love the opportunity to visit the place that led to the name of Kafwain's outstanding son!

Alfred Nuckols, Jr.

06 Mar 2009 10:38 PM

I have not rooted for a California horse in years but the Pamplemousse is my choice this year. He is simply stunning. I love the way he runs; it reminds me of Secretariat and Barbaro.

All the best.

07 Mar 2009 8:13 AM
The Wizard

Quality Road is the real deal. Great pedigree.

Bred for speed on the sire end, and bred to run all day on the dam side.

Serious Derby horse.

08 Mar 2009 11:51 AM

definitly agreed with the wizard..hes the real deal. Hes definitly one of my favorites. He just has something special about him, everytime i watch him race

- stil trying to figure out what that is

05 Apr 2009 11:29 AM

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