Luis Carvajal, Jr (Eric Kalet)
By Ross Blacker
Trainer Luis Carvajal, Jr will never be confused with a super trainer. However, in my estimation, he is a solid horseman and someone who has paid his dues in the sport. Now, at the age of 50, with his stable down to just 15 horses, he announced earlier this week that he’s dispersing his stock and taking a job in the Gulfstream Park racing office.
Many fans remember Carvajal when the Chilean native burst on the scene in 2017 with a horse named Imperial Hint. The story was captivating: an 85-year-old owner from New Jersey who grew up in the shadows of Ebbets Field, had been in the game for decades and made his money in the auto body industry, a trainer (Carvajal) nobody heard of, and a horse that started his career at Tampa Bay Downs.
What followed was the stuff dreams were made of as the horse became one of America’s premier sprinters, winning a pair of Vanderbilt and Vosburgh Stakes and hitting the board in two Breeder’s Cup Sprints. As the horse began to win, the phone started to ring but Mamone waited his entire life for a specimen like Imperial Hint and stayed loyal to Carvajal eschewing astronomical offers to purchase the horse.
When all was said and done, Imperial Hint won 14 times, took his connections to both Saudi Arabia and Dubai and won over $2.2M. One of the most ironic aspects of this horse’s career, in my estimation, was the fact that his sire Imperialism was known as a from-the-clouds closer who relished more ground. This horse couldn’t have been more of a polar opposite than his dad, excelling on the front end in one-turn races.
Getting back to Carvajal and his plight. Here is a guy who got started in the game on the Monmouth Park backstretch for a Jersey legend Bob Durso. He was aboard for the ride of Durso’s most famous trainee Frisk Me Now, a winner of the Suburban, Ohio, and Pennsylvania Derbies. The Generazio family, known for their unmistakable orange and white diamond silks filled Durso’s barn with quality horse after quality horse. When his mentor passed in 2007, Carvajal has already been running the day-to-day operations of the stable but now the horses ran in his name.
Success didn’t come easy at first but he managed to win $1M from 207-2010. The next few years were somewhat lean before he decided to begin wintering in Tampa instead of venturing to Gulfstream like Durso did. The stable was never that large and was made up of horses owned by hard-working people, not millionaires or powerful syndicates.
What amazes me is that despite the success and notoriety of Imperial Hint, more clients did not follow and send horses to the Carvajal barn. It’s not like the trainer was standing in the winner’s circle of Saratoga accepting the spoils of a Grade I win 20 years ago, this happened just four years ago.
However, given the diminishing horse population, the continued prevalence of super trainers, and the stagnant nature of purses in New Jersey, his business simply never flourished the way if should’ve for someone with his horsemanship.
I’m sure the decision to leave the game wasn’t an easy one. For most trainers that 5 a.m. alarm is all they know and some go years without a single day off, the game is in their blood. There’s no doubt that had he had the stock, Carvajal would’ve continued to plug along hoping that someday soon another Imperial Hint walked into his barn.
It’s not saying that Carvajal could make a return to the game in a few years similar to other conditioners like Gary Contessa who left only to return. Here’s hoping that unless he really enjoys his time behind the desk of a racing department, Carvajal is back where he belongs: in a barn and on the backside with equine athletes pushing them to be their very best.