Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: ‘I Think Dad Would Be Proud’

Before entering the Oaklawn winner’s circle on March 13, jockey Alex Canchari raised his gaze to the clouds and allowed himself a moment to experience the rolling waves of emotion. He raised his right hand in a salute, acknowledging the man from whom he’d inherited his love of the horses.

When Alex closed his eyes, he felt it: his dad was proud of him.

The 27-year old had just piloted Carlos L. to a $97.40 upset of the $150,000 Temperence Hill, his first stakes win since the death of his father, Luis Canchari, on Dec. 9, 2020. 

“My dad always loved Oaklawn,” Alex said. “I just felt like he was riding with me. He was watching over me.”

It wasn’t just his father’s passing that was affecting Alex on the way to the winner’s circle; it had been a long, arduous 12 months for the entire Canchari family. 

In March of 2020, Alex’s older brother, jockey Patrick Canchari, was gravely injured in a car wreck on the way to the racetrack in Arizona. He was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury and a fractured C4 vertebra (neck), sedated and placed on a ventilator. 

Due to COVID restrictions placing hospitals on lockdown, family members were unable to see and support Patrick in person.

“That’s why it was really tough, and it just seemed like the doctors didn’t give him much of a chance when the accident happened,” Alex recalled. “He’s a strong person, too.”

Patrick overcame all the odds, and enjoyed his 30th birthday at home in Minnesota last week. He lives with sister Ashley Canchari, who renovated her house for wheelchair access, cares for Patrick, and takes him to daily therapy sessions.

“He’s in good spirits,” Alex said. “He was really well-liked in our town. There are people there that come every day and help him; he needs help doing everything. But he’s doing really well now.”

Patrick Canchari celebrates his 30th birthday

Alex stayed close to home that summer, supporting his family as best he could through the restrictions imposed by the virus, all while riding at both Canterbury and Prairie Meadows.

It was late fall when an unknown respiratory illness sent the family patriarch to the hospital. It wasn’t COVID, but doctors were unable to diagnose him and Luis Canchari succumbed on Dec. 9. He was 64 years old. 

“He was kind of like a jack of all trades,” Alex said of his father. “He’s been everything from an agent to a trainer, and he was a jockey. He could do everything with horses; that’s what I always admired about him.”

Alex and his father had always been close. Luis grew up in Lima, Peru, attending races at the Monterrico oval and, when he was old enough, grooming and galloping horses there.

In fact, Luis Canchari was the groom/exercise rider for the legendary Peruvian horse Santorin, the first ever winner of the country’s “Quadruple Crown.” Santorin won at distances from seven furlongs to nearly two miles, tallying eight victories from 13 career starts. Perhaps his biggest triumph came in the 1973 Group 1 Carlos Pellegrini Grand Prix in Argentina, which the horse dominated by 13 lengths.

Today, there is a statue of Santorin in front of Monterrico. 

“I still have that picture of my dad walking the horse into the winner’s circle,” Alex said, pride evident in his voice. “The grooms would gallop horses without saddles there. He was amazing.”

Luis Canchari moved to the United States in the mid-1980s, working and riding races in Florida for a few years. However, it was a trip to Minnesota’s Canterbury Park that altered the man’s life forever.

“My mom was on the rail watching the horses, but when he passed her she had her head down, and he thought she was crying,” Alex said. “He asked her if she was okay, and that’s how they met.”

Luis and his wife settled down and raised four children in Minnesota, working with the horses at Canterbury Park every summer.

There must be something in the air at Canterbury, because Alex met and fell in love with his fiancée there as well.

“I had broken my hand, and I was at the races with my friends,” Alex explained. “She bumped into me and she got ice cream on my shirt, and we just started talking.”

Looking back on his childhood, Alex can’t remember a time when both the racetrack and his family weren’t a major part of his life. He spent endless hours at the track with his father and his brothers, learning horses from the ground up. 

His father wasn’t the kind of man who taught by way of instruction; no, Luis’ children learned by doing.

“I remember when I was 10 years old, I was cleaning stalls for a Quarter Horse trainer in Minnesota,” Alex said. “Part of my pay was that she would let me ride the pony. One day, my pony freaked out for some reason and took off full speed across the blacktop. I couldn’t slow him down. There is a chain link fence surrounding the track up there, and he was heading straight for it. Well, he hit the brakes, and I flew right over the top of his neck into the fence.

“I thought, ‘I don’t want to get back on him.’ My dad, he was wearing a dress shirt, slacks, and dress shoes, and he came over and got on the pony and started galloping him around in figure eights with one finger on the reins.

“That was the only time I can remember being scared around horses, but seeing my dad do that, it took away all the fear. He said, ‘It’s easy Alex, you just gotta enjoy it.’”

When Alex committed to a career as a jockey in his early teens, his father was right alongside him.

“I used to run around all of Shakopee,” Alex said, referring to the town in Minnesota in which Canterbury Park is located. “Dad would follow me in the car, while I was running with the sauna suit and carrying a whip, practicing switching hands and stuff. Dad built me an equicizer at our house, and he would come out and coach me on it.”

Understandably, Alex felt bereft after Luis’s death in early December. 

Alex stayed home for the birth of his daughter, Penelope, on Dec. 21, then made his way to Turfway Park in Kentucky. Things weren’t quite clicking: he went 3 for 59 over the next two months.

A fellow Canterbury regular, trainer Mac Robertson, called to check in on Alex. When he heard how the rider was doing, Robertson offered him the chance to ride for his barn at Oaklawn. Alex jumped at the opportunity.

Alex piloted Robertson’s Glacken’s Ghost to an allowance victory in his first Oaklawn mount of the meet on Feb. 26, and the momentum has continued to build. There was the win with Carlos L. on March 13, and the very next weekend Alex brought home another stakes winner for Robertson with Sir Wellington in the Gazebo, paying $15.40.

Alex Canchari, wearing a helmet cover embroidered with his brother’s name, gives Sir Wellington a pat after their win in the Gazebo Stakes on March 20

Carlos L.’s stakes win was extra special, however, because the horse is owned by former jockey Rene Douglas, who suffered a career-ending injury in 2009 at Arlington Park. Douglas is one of Alex’s childhood idols, so the mount was especially important to him.

Even at the eighth pole, when Alex’s whip flew out of his hand after connecting with that of a nearby rival, the jockey refused to give up. He urged Carlos L. onward with his hands and his heels, giving the horse everything he had. 

The pair crossed the wire a neck in front, and Alex saluted the heavens after the wire.

Things are definitely looking up, and Alex is excited to spend the summer at home in Minnesota where he can ride at Canterbury and help take care of his brother, as well as spending time “being a dad” to his own two kids. 

“Everybody has tough times,” Alex summarized. “I pray a lot, and work every day, and try to look for the good side of things, like my brother walking again some day.

“I think Dad would be proud.”

The post Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: ‘I Think Dad Would Be Proud’ appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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