Long-Time Assistant Juan Cano Takes Over Late Mentor Angel Montano’s Stable

Juan Cano might not be a familiar name to Ellis Park racing enthusiasts, but he should be a familiar face.

The 31-date RUNHAPPY Meet at Ellis Park begins this Sunday and concludes Saturday Sept. 4. Racing is Friday, Saturday and Sundays, plus Thursday July 1. First post is 12:50 p.m. Central.

Cano, a married father of three (with a fourth on the way), was trainer Angel Montano Sr.’s longtime exercise rider and assistant. With health issues sidelining Montano in recent years, Cano largely ran the Louisville-based stable and was the one making the trip to Ellis Park to run its horses, including for six wins last summer. After Montano died Oct. 1 on his 80th birthday, Cano took over as trainer.

Outside the gaping absence of the Montano patriarch, Cano said not much has changed with the operation.

“I’ve been at Ellis Park for a lot of years. It’s just a new name as the trainer,” he said at Churchill Downs. “I still have horses for Angel’s kids. Joey comes out almost every day.”

The barn’s trademark colors with the royal blue background and gold angel wings remain. Montano’s seven sons and daughters gave Cano their dad’s equipment and golf cart, saving the young trainer tens of thousands of dollars. The Montanos, their spouses and friends continue to help populate the barn, including the recent formation of Angel Wings LLC.

“Angel intended for him to take over,” said son Joe, who long has been involved in the stable and has helped Cano navigate the considerable paperwork, payroll and taxes any trainer encounters. “We’ve been a team together for 10 years anyways, so it just continued on.

“Juan has a couple of clients he picked up; people are interested in what he’s doing. He works hard, takes good care of the horses and gives them a lot of attention. He’s looking forward to a good summer.”

Cano has doubled the “six or seven” horses with which he started, including several he claimed for himself. The stable has three wins, a second and five thirds out of 19 starts at Churchill Downs’ spring meet, with three days remaining. One of those wins came at 44-1 odds with Super Sol in a May 31 allowance race.

“I’ve had a good meet,” said Cano, who turns 36 on June 24. “Churchill Downs is a little tough to win a race. I got a little lucky this meet. I’ve got a couple of horses I think will do good at Ellis Park.”

Montano, a four-time meet leader at Ellis Park, paid forward his success in America with his generosity and mentorship of Cano and other young Hispanics at the track. Montano arrived from Mexico at age 17 on a Greyhound bus with a fourth-grade education, $100, six sandwiches and three words of English. He worked his way into becoming one of the very few thoroughbred trainers in Kentucky in the 1950s and ’60s whose native language was Spanish, then stamped himself among the state’s winningest stables in the 1970s. A trainer for 60 years, Montano was the dean of the Kentucky horsemen at the time of his death. His last wins came at Ellis Park last summer.

“With Juan, given the timing, I think Angel thought he was going to be one who could take the next step,” said Joe, a licensed assistant trainer whose full-time job is with Ford’s Material Planning and Logistics team. “He turned a lot of responsibility over to Juan in the last year or so. They thought the same as far as caring and training horses, and Angel taught Juan a lot of things as far as galloping, working, how a horse feels and getting one ready to go long or short.

“Juan took a lot of what Angel taught him and incorporated it with what he learned working for other people. The family felt Juan was going to be the one to take over. It was easy for us to give him all of Angel’s equipment. We knew Angel wanted him to have it. He was part of our family and still is.”

Cano grew up riding horses and cows in his native Guatemala before coming to Kentucky. He started out as a hotwalker and then groom for several trainers before pursuing a position as an exercise rider in Ocala, Fla. Upon returning to Kentucky, trainer Rick Hiles suggested Cano speak with Montano about a job. The trainer watched him gallop one horse and gave Cano a salaried job. It was the start of a 12-year relationship during which the elder Montano offered constant encouragement and assistance.

“He helped me a lot,” Cano said, adding in reference to getting the long hair off a horse’s body, “One time they needed someone to clip a horse. Angel said, ‘Juan, can you clip the horse?’ I said, ‘I don’t know how, but I’ll try.’ I went out and bought clippers like you use for people. I clipped one. It took all day, and it looked like a cartoon. Wrong kind of clippers. Angel said, ‘Juan! What are you doing?’ And he went and bought me a pair of clippers for horses. After that, I clipped horses for all kinds of trainers.

“Angel gave me a chance to claim a horse. I claimed one for $5,000 and he won for $7,500. I got really lucky with my first horse. It was a three-horse field. The horse was claimed off me, but I made money off him and claimed another one. I used to always have one horse, then two. While working for Angel, I would groom and gallop my horses and do all my other work.”

In addition to the added training responsibilities, Cano continues to get on most, if not all, of his horses in morning training.

“It’s not easy to run a stable, but I’m happy to do it,” he said. “All the Montano kids have helped me. Every time they come to the barn, they say, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing.’ Miguel said, ‘My daddy is happy for you.’ I’m working hard. On race day, when I run a horse, I basically live with the horse all day in the barn.”

Horse owner Peter Patel, who claimed two fillies for Cano to train, said he likes knowing that the trainer sees and touches his horses every day.

“He’s working hard, that’s the main thing” Patel said. “I always loved small trainers. I like to help them out. He’s doing wonderful, and I hope he does well. He’s hands-on.”

The post Long-Time Assistant Juan Cano Takes Over Late Mentor Angel Montano’s Stable appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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