Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, January 3, 2014 at 12:00 AM
Aqueduct: Classic Giacnroll can bring Guerrero back into racing’s spotlight
OZONE PARK, N.Y. – For two years, Juan Carlos Guerrero was front and center, winning races in bushels at Parx Racing, where he was the leading trainer in 2011 after missing that distinction by one victory in 2010.
But things have changed drastically for Guerrero, who after being banned for 10 years from Parx now takes on a behind-the-scenes role in a stable that has dropped out of the limelight.
Guerrero, who officially is the assistant to his wife Lisa, will attempt to get back in the spotlight Saturday at Aqueduct when he and his wife send out Classic Giacnroll in the Grade 2, $200,000 Jerome Stakes for 3-year-olds. The Jerome offers 17 qualifying points (10-4-2-1) to the top four finishers toward the May 3 Kentucky Derby.
“For all the stuff that happened to me, I think this would be like a reward,” Guerrero said of having a stakes-caliber 3-year-old.
Late in 2011, a year in which Guerrero led all Parx trainers with 131 wins, Guerrero was charged with “indecent assault” by a Parx racing office employee. Those charges were later dropped due to insufficient evidence, but Parx officials were successful in getting Guerrero banned from the grounds for a decade by the Pennsylvania Racing Commission for what track officials labeled “inappropriate touching.” The commission did not ban Guerrero from any other state facility nor did it suspend his license.
Eventually, Guerrero took stalls in New York – where he won a handful of races – for two years before giving up his license last July. Guerrero cited the strain of commuting several days a week from south Jersey and being away from his family – he and Lisa have two daughters, Isabella, 10, and Julianna, 7 – as why he opted to leave new York.
“Right now my family is my life,” Guerrero said Thursday at Aqueduct following a traffic-filled 2 1/2-hour ride from his Williamston, N.J. home.
Guerrero decided to work as an assistant to his wife Lisa, who was credited with 37 wins from 143 starters in 2013. Lisa Guerrero, who is listed as trainer and part-owner of Giacnroll, has 18 stalls at Parx and the Guerreros have 10 horses at Westhampton Farm.
Juan Carlos Guerrero said the stable is down from 60 head just a few years ago. Several owners, some who actually testified on his behalf during a January 2012 hearing regarding his ejection from Parx, left Guerrero.
“We went down big time,” Guerrero said. “They did stick with me, then they slowly got away from me.”
Last year, Joe Besecker, a hedge-fund manager, contacted Guerrero about going to the sales. At last spring’s Timonium sale, they picked out a 2-year-old by 2005 Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo out of the Storm Bird mare Classic Woman. Guerrero thought the colt was worth $30,000. Besecker bought him for $27,000 and named him Classic Giacnroll.
After Classic Giacnroll ran fourth in his debut at Parx in July, the Guerreros added blinkers to the colt’s equipment and he finished second in his next start. He followed that up with two off-the-pace victories in six-furlong races at Parx before finishing third in the $100,000 Marylander Stakes at Laurel on Dec. 7.
In his allowance win on Sept. 16, it appeared as though Mr. Paladin was on his way to victory before Classic Giacnroll ran him down with a strong stretch rally.
“That’s what impressed me about this horse. You think he’ll be a good second then all of a sudden he just turns the jets on,” Guerrero said. “I got a feeling when he goes long he’ll be more relaxed. He can settle. He can run all day.”
Guerrero said he and Besecker have had interest in the colt, but to this point have turned down offers.
“I told the owner this is the race that will tell us what he’s really worth,” Guerrero said.
Though Guerrero said he misses the constant action of years past when he was a fixture in the entry box, he hopes that Classic Giacnroll is the start of getting better quality horses with which to work.
“I love the claiming game. I loved all of that but I think I’d really like to get nice horses,” Guerrero said.