Tadahiro Hotehama's homebred T.H. Approval became the first back-to-back winner of the San Juan Capistrano Invitational Handicap (gr. IIT) in 38 years as Santa Anita brought down the curtain on the 2006 season.
The last horse to repeat in the about 1 3/4-mile San Juan Capistrano was Niarkos in 1967-68.
The 6-5 favorite in the field of 12, T.H. Approval ranged into contention while six wide near the quarter pole to seize the lead from Golden Rahy in the mid-stretch under Alex Solis. After opening up by a couple of lengths, the gray 5-year-old With Approval
horse held off the late charge of second choice One Off by one length. French invader Quinquin the King also rallied in the lane and finished 1 3/4 lengths behind in third in his first start in the United States. Totally Platinum was fourth. The final time was 2:45 1/5 on firm turf.
Winless in four starts since winning last year's San Juan Capistrano for trainer Eduardo Inda, the Kentucky-bred T.H. Approval had run second in his last three starts, all grade II events at 1 1/2 miles on the grass. In his two starts this year, T.H. Approval was a strong-closing runner-up to Atlando in the San Luis Obispo Feb. 26 and to King's Drama a month later.
"I love this horse, he's so great to ride," Solis said. "Eduardo gets all the credit. He is such a cool horse, and that's good for this kind of a race because he relaxes very well."
T.H. Approval, who carried 117 pounds to victory, improved to 5-5-4 in 22 outings with earnings of $564,288. Inda, whose stable has dwindled to three horses, won his second race of the meeting, one he was pointing for all season for his Japanese owner, Hotehama.
"He had a very good trip, and it was a good ride," Inda said. "I saw when he got position he was in good shape. I was very happy, and it's very nice to win a race like this - and I need to win."
Wild Buddy set a brisk pace for the distance while pressured on his outside by 90-1 outsider Modern Era, clicking off fractions of :46 1/5 for the opening half-mile, 1:10 1/5 for three-quarters, 1:36 4/5 for the mile and 2:03 3/5 for 10 furlongs. T. H. Approval, racing near the rear of the pack on the backstretch, made a bold move from the grandstand side on the final turn and grinded past the tiring leaders in the stretch. One Off, stalking in mid-pack along the inside for Garrett Gomez, lost some ground at the top of the lane but angled out late to finish best of all, but T.H. Approval had plenty left in the final stages.
"He needed to get free at the three (eighths pole) and he couldn't," trainer Neil Drysdale said of One Off. "He was stuck down in there so he had to come up with a real late run. The winner just got away from us."
T.H. Approval paid $4.40, $2.80, and $2.40. One Off returned $4.40 and $3.60, completing a $21.20 exacta. Quinquin the King, ridden by Corey Nakatani, made an impression late and paid $3.60 to show. The top three were also the three favorites in the wagering.
The winner joins Niarkos, George Royal (1965-66), Intent (1952-53), and Mioland (1940-41) as back-to-back San Juan Capistrano winners.
It was 1 1/2 lengths back to Totally Platinum, who was followed by Wild Buddy, Sort It Out, Bullistic, Misto Quente, Golden Rahy, Modern Era, Mino Ona, and Capitano.