The grin stretches ear to ear whenever he hears the music, in response to the recognition but maybe too because it’s a reminder he’s just ridden another winner. Each time he enters the winner’s circle, track announcer Paul Allen starts the background music from the movie, the Godfather. The music has played a total of 15 times now.
“It’s OK. I like it,” said Geovanni Franco, 21, riding for the first time this summer at Canterbury Park.
Here’s the kicker to this particular tale. Franco was born and raised in Mexico City, has never been to Italy and needed to be told that the music accompanying each of his wins was from an American movie about Italian mobsters.
“Yeah, I know,” he said Friday night after bringing in Patch of Blue in the fourth race, his 15th win of the meet. “The Mafia.”
Franco was standing just inside the jockeys lounge talking about the win when the riders for the next race began strolling past him out the door.
“Hey, way to go, Godfather,” said Denny Velasquez, bumping fists with Franco.
A short time later, Lori Keith walked past, done for the night. “Hey, Geovanni,” she said, in her best, gruff Italian dialect.
Riding at Canterbury Park for the first time, in the U.S. only a couple of years, Geovanni Franco, just like that, has an identity that has absolutely nothing to do with his true heritage.
There is nothing in his background to suggest that he might one day become a jockey, either. “I have an uncle who’s a farrier,” he said. “He shoes jumpers.” That was Franco’s introduction to the horse world, and it evolved from there.
That was in Mexico City, and two years later Franco was riding at the city’s only thoroughbred track, the Hipodromo de Las Americas.
He was convinced to give Hastings Racecourse a try in Canada – the same place this year’s Kentucky Derby winning rider Mario Gutierrez got his start – in 2009 and wound up the track’s leading bug boy. His first winner, on a horse named Via Vennetto, came two months short of his 18th birthday.
“Then I went back to Mexico for five months,” he said.
Next, he gave Santa Anita a try. “I was there one month,” he said. “I won one race.”
That surprised him.
“I didn’t think it would be that tough,” he explained.
Then he went to San Francisco, back to Canada and home again to Mexico.
Everything changed in 2011 while he was racing in Northern California, at the Fair meets. He met Miguel Silva at the Santa Rosa meet.
“The very first race he won for me,” said Silva. “A horse named Itspartytime.”
A relationship developed quickly. When Silva returned to Turf Paradise in Phoenix, Franco went too. When Silva shipped his horses to Shakopee, Franco came along. “Wherever he goes, I go,” Franco said.
Franco has not been involved in a sport other than race-riding. “No, nothing,” he said. “Not even soccer, although I like to watch it.”
Franco returns to Mexico City periodically to visit, but has no intentions of staying on a permanent basis. “No it’s better here,” he said. “You can make more money, a better living.”
It’s better in the U.S., with one exception. “The food,” he said. “The food is better in Mexico.”
That thought brought him back to his original thought. What good is better food if you don’t have the money to buy it.
Despite nothing in his background to suggest Franco would one day make a good race-rider, he has done just fine in a very short time.
He finished tied for third with 75 wins competing in the very competitive jockey colony at Turf Paradise last winter. Friday night, he moved into sole possession of fifth place at Canterbury Friday night with his 15th win of the meet.
After which, his theme song played, of course.
This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.
Photo Credit: Coady Photography