Nick Sanna’s long journey to the winner’s circle

As a high school student, Nick Sanna had a part-time job at Delaware Park cleaning the stands at the end of live racing days. Little could he imagine then that over half a century later, he would be nearing his 24th year as a horse owner, often viewing his horses from those same stands.

Sanna cut his teeth as a kid by learning the game and how to read the past performances from his dad, and his journey from maintenance worker to successful business and horse owner is one of those Damon Runyon-type stories you sometimes find in racing.

Following high school Nick served in the Army, where he trained in jump school before ultimately ending up as a military policeman. Stationed at California’s Fort Ord, one of his duties was to apprehend AWOL servicemen who sought to flee to Mexico.

Perhaps fittingly, then, the current star in his barn is Recruiter. The two-year-old Army Mule colt recently won the James F. Lewis, III Stakes at Laurel Park to run his record to three-for-three. Despite Sanna’s military background, though, it was actually his wife Nikki who came up with Recruiter’s name.

Nick shares ownership Recruiter with trainer Cal Lynch, and they are currently considering entering him in the Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct January 1. The race is a Kentucky Derby points race (10 points to the winner), and success there could lead to having a horse on the Derby trail.

“I’ve particularly enjoyed working with Cal and his team, which is very much a hands-on, family-run outfit,” Sanna said.

In addition to working with Lynch, Nick has often utilized the services of trainer Mike Pino. They have had countless good years including winning 30 races in one year at Delaware Park. In 2003 they claimed Smooth Maneuvers for $25,000 at Delaware Park. She went on to win over $220,000 and the Grade 3 Anne Arundel Stakes. Nick and Mike also won the Maryland Million Turf in 2017 with Spartianos.

Nikki and Nick Sanna. Photo by Mike Valiante.

Ownership of horses is an expensive venture. Following his army service, Nick began working at a roofing company as a laborer. He then started arranging jobs as a contractor before forming his own company, Tri-State Roofing.

The cash flow from the business gives Sanna the wherewithal to purchase horses. He originally purchased mainly via the claiming ranks but has elevated to buying more expensive stock at sales. Although horse ownership is more a labor of love, Sanna says he “keeps an eye on expenses.” 

Five-time winner American Patrol, maiden-breaker Good Source, and three-year-old Defend are among his current stock. He said his sweet spot is owning “eight to ten horses” who can be competitive and hopefully pay the bills.

Will Recruiter be the dream horse? That remains to be seen, but Nick Sanna realizes he is living the very dreams he dreamed while cleaning up at Delaware Park as a young man. Many days you will find him enjoying a day at the track with his wife and friends in the Terrace Dining Room at Delaware Park.

He started as a working class guy and largely remains one at heart. Sometimes he appears in the winner’s circle, and sometimes he owns horses, but he cites the people as what he cherishes.

“Over the years we have met so many wonderful people in the business and made lifelong friends,” he said.