Alex Canchari did just that Friday night. He came home and rode the winning horse in the fifth race, at the same racetrack where his father rode, at the same racetrack where he worked the concession stands from the time he was 14 years of age, selling tacos and making friends of just about everyone who knew him.
“All the kids loved him,” said track president/CEO Randy Sampson. “He has a smile a mile wide whenever you see him.”
Sampson began receiving text messages and phone calls shortly after Canchari brought in Rack Daddy for leading trainer Mac Robertson.
“We’re happy as can be to see him here, someone who started out here as a kid working the concession stands and now he has come back as a rider,” Sampson continued.
Alex used to accompany his dad, Luis ‘The Glove’ Canchari, to Canterbury Downs, watching the races, hanging out on the backside, dreaming a boy’s dreams.
He grew up in the shadow of the race track, in Shakopee, attended high school there through his sophomore year and then graduated with online courses while galloping horses for Moises Yanez and Brian Williamson in Chicago.
His riding career got under way there, then shifted to East Coast tracks, then to the south, at Oaklawn Park, then back East.
But yes indeed that was Canchari, now 18, on Friday night steering an erratic Rack Daddy across the finish line, just a couple of miles from where he grew up dreaming of becoming a jockey one day, seeing the racetrack lights at night as he fell asleep.
“I wanted to become a jockey from the time I was a little boy,” he said in the jockeys lounge afterward. So, he practiced every chance he got. He had a practice horse at home, on which he learned the rudiments of the trade before going to the real thing.
“My dad helped me a lot. I was about 13 years old and he would tell me how to relax a horse. He told me to watch the New York and the California riders for tips on what to do.”
On June 2 this year Canchari amazed himself with a win at Belmont Park on a horse named Dr. Wesley.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he recalled. “I was riding in a race against all my idols – Javier Castellano, John Velasquez, Ramon Dominguez, David Cohen, Eddie Castro and Rosie Naprovnik, all in the same race.”
He rode against his idols and he won the race.
Canchari arrived home five days ago, having driven from New Jersey with his mother, Ann. He had planned to come home all along to visit his sister, Ashley, who was pregnant and about to give birth, but the details of the trip changed suddenly three weeks ago.
He had been riding at Belmont and Monmouth parks and drove to Delaware Park to work a horse, a single horse, but he was injured during the work, breaking a bone and tearing a ligament in his left shoulder.
“It was next to the growth plate and the orthopedic surgeon told me no horses for two weeks,” Canchari related. “I started working some here five days ago.”
Canchari left Chicago for the East early this year after making contact with a stable that put him on mounts in Philadelphia, Monmouth and Belmont Park and also worked some horses at Saratoga.
Alex left New York to give Oaklawn Park a try in January, second guessing himself the entire way. “I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing,” he said. “I took a big risk going there.”
He didn’t second guess the decision long. Canchari rode winners on his first two mounts in Arkansas, on opening day, Jan. 13.
There wasn’t much risk coming home, to where he is known so well. He had four mounts, although one scratched, on Friday’s card, has mounts in the Princess Elaine and Hoist Her Flag stakes today for Robertson and has mounts in every race on Sunday.
His Chicago connections obviously stretch all the way to Shakopee. “I rode in Chicago for Mac’s dad,” Canchari explained. “I rode before for Charlie Smith, too.”
About that time, Adolfo Morales stepped into the silks room where Canchari was carrying on his conversation and gave him a congratulatory fist bump, recognition of the bugboy’s first win on the home turf.
Canchari’s first professional mount came last Dec. 26 in Chicago and through Friday night’s card he has won 30 races from 319 mounts. His bug will be extended by three weeks, because of his injury, to next March.
And now that he’s here, Canchari’s plans are to stay through the end of the meet. He has an agent, Jodie Sinclair, and, of course, there is a very recently arrived niece, Nova Ley.
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