LOS ALAMITOS : Nirvana Moves Up to Preferred During 8-Race Winning Streak

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Nirvana, a 3-year-old pacer, has lived up to his name for owners Mark Silva and Tim Cherney.

The two Orange County residents bought Nirvana two months ago at Fairmount Park, near St. Louis, and he has given them five consecutive victories, including one against the preferred class last Saturday.

Silva, who also has nine other horses at Los Alamitos, trains and drives Nirvana, whose winning streak, started before the purchase, now stands at eight. Cherney, of Fullerton, and Silva, of Buena Park, bought the colt privately in January.

The streak began in a maiden race at Fairmount Park in early December and Nirvana has been challenged by tougher competition in each subsequent start. Saturday's victory in the preferred, which is one level below the invitational class, was one of the most impressive.

Nirvana was at the back of the field at the midway point and had to rally in the stretch to win. His winning time of 1:55 3/5 was the fastest of his 17-race career.

Silva's 10-horse stable has won 10 of 21 starts at this meeting and he ranks 11th among trainers. His 11 victories as a driver ranks him 10th.

"I didn't expect him to be this good," Silva said. "I bought him to race here, so (Cherney) could see him. It's looked like its worked here."

When the fall meeting ended last November, Silva went back to Fairmount Park to race through the winter. He saw Nirvana win the maiden race in December. In fact, it was tough not to notice, since the colt won by 17 lengths in 1:58 3/5, a track record for 2-year-olds. A month later, Nirvana won again by 10 lengths.

"I wanted to get a better horse," Cherney said. "I didn't want to stay in the $6,000-8,000 claimers. Mark was able to come to an agreement with the owners and we liked the breeding. It's been a pleasant surprise."

The Los Alamitos portion of Nirvana's winning streak began on Feb. 12 and has included a victory a week, each of which has been a little faster than the previous week.

At times, though, in the last two weeks, it has looked as if the streak was over. On Feb. 27, Silva was last with three-eighths of a mile left and had to move Nirvana wide before wearing down Somercrest in the final yards.

"(Feb. 27) was the most fun," Silva said.

On Saturday, Nirvana raced outside for most of the mile but still had enough in the lane to hold off a fast-closing gelding named Marksman.

"I knew (Marksman) was there and I was on (Nirvana) the whole way," Silva said. "He's lazy and he never gets away from horses. I had to work to win that."

This week, Nirvana will race Saturday either in the preferred class or the invitational class, where he would go against such top pacers as Positron and Camaraderie.

"I'm hoping he'll go in the preferred," Silva said. "I think it's unfair to put him against Positron."

Cherney bought his first horse with Silva last summer, at the beginning of the summer-fall meeting. He had followed harness racing for several years and, thanks to a successful business, was ready to invest in the game.

"It took awhile to find a young trainer with potential," Cherney said. "I claimed my first horse with Mark and I was happy with the way he trained and I started buying horses. Mark's a good trainer. He takes pride in his work. I'm happy to be with him."

With Silva, the 47-year-old Cherney initially bought mostly claiming horses, and now owns several. Three are 2-year-olds still awaiting their first starts, but the rest are active.

Besides Nirvana's victory Saturday, the pair also won with Ner'To Do, an $8,000 claimer, and finished third with a $6,000 claimer, Nero's Knight.

Nirvana will have only three or four more starts at Los Alamitos. He will leave in mid-April for Pennsylvania, where he is eligible for that state's sires stakes program.

Silva's stable will be split between Pennsylvania and Sacramento, where his wife Tammy, will care for a few horses. His mother, Jan, also helps around the barn.

Silva, 28, didn't train or drive for most of 1992, but instead worked as a horseshoer on the backstretch, a trade he still practices on his own horses. Silva grew up in California, but also spent time with his late father, Bud, on the nation's harness circuit.

"Nirvana is the best horse I've ever had," Silva said. I've never had the money to buy a horse like this. I have a lot of confidence in him.

"He's just a great horse. If he gets beat, I won't be worried. I've had a hell of a lot of fun--more than I'm allowed. He's given me everything."

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Heavy Tipper, who won a qualifying leg for the American Pacing Classic at Los Alamitos last September, was named the California Harness Horsemen's Assn.'s 1992 horse of the year on Saturday.

Heavy Tipper, 5, raced in the invitational class at Sacramento and Los Alamitos for most of the year. He also raced briefly in Chicago.

Owner Jim Coats of Citrus Heights, Calif., said the gelding is recovering from a lower tendon strain, but could race before the current meeting ends on April 24. Heavy Tipper is trained by Paul Blumenfeld and driven by Rick Kuebler.

"The time off was a precaution," Coats said. "The vet said to give him three weeks off, but we've given him three months. We'd never take any chances."

Coats also said the American-National Pace at Sportsman's Park in Chicago on July 17 was a long-range goal. Last fall, Heavy Tipper upset Odds Against in a leg of the American Pacing Classic.

A surprise addition at the winner's circle ceremony on Saturday was Heavy Tipper himself. Coats had thought the gelding was recovering at a thoroughbred farm in Riverside.

"He's doing fine," Coats said. "I thought he was at the farm. Paul had us fooled. We had no idea he was on the grounds."

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Gaetan Lamy, who led Canada's drivers in victories in 1992, will drive at Los Alamitos this week for owner Gaetan Fortin, a fellow Canadian, who has 12 horses stabled at Los Alamitos.

Lamy, who won his 3,500th race on March 1, has been named to drive four claiming horses on tonight's program and two races on Thursday. Lamy, of Trois Rivieres, Quebec, is based at Blue Bonnets Raceway in Montreal. Over the last three years, he has won at least 460 races a year, including 553 in 1992.

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