The 6-year-old gelding Captain Squire capped his surprising comeback from knee surgery Saturday when he collected his first grade I win in the $236,000 Ancient Title Breeders' Cup (gr. I) at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting.
The favored Captain Squire, who hadn't raced since June 2004 when he began his comeback with a four-length win over optional claiming/allowance foes Aug. 24, showed all of his old grit and then some for jockey Alex Solis. He was headed on his outside in deep stretch by 19-1 shot Zanzibar and Kent Desormeaux, but came back on to win by a half-length. Indian Country who looked like a winner with a big move in the stretch under David Flores, flattened out late and was nosed for second.
Captain Squire went over the $1 million mark in career earnings with the victory. The final time for the six furlongs was 1:08 4/5. All horses carried 124 pounds.
Breaking from the rail, the Jeff Mullins-trained Captain Squire never had a breather. He dueled into the stretch with second choice McCann's Mojave, clicking off sizzling early fractions of :21 and :43 1/5 and :55 4/5. As the field swarmed on him in mid-stretch and Zanzibar edged in front by a head inside of the eighth pole, the Florida-bred son of Flying Chevron showed he had something left and dug in for a courageous victory.
"I knew we were going fast, I wasn't sure how fast," Solis said. "I finally got a chance to give him a breather around the half-mile pole to five-sixteenth, and then he came on again in the stretch. I'm sure he was tired, but he has such a big heart that as soon as the other horse got next to him, he fought him off and fought him to the ending. He wouldn't let him go by.
"Since he's got back, I talked to Jeff (Mullins) and I said 'Breeders' Cup.' He has really changed, completely."
It was the first grade I win for owners Robert Bone and Jeff Diener of Sacramento, Calif. Captain Squire earned $150,000 for his eighth win in 25 starts and has now banked $1,031,765.
Certainly it was an unlikely occurrence after Captain Squire was turned out in Florida following knee surgery to remove bone chips more than a year ago and likely retired. Captain Squire hadn't shown much interest in finishing his races while dropping out of graded stakes into classified allowance company prior to hitting the sidelines.
"When he holds the lead that long he'll fight to the bitter end," Mullins said. "When (Zanzibar) drifted to him, I was glad he drifted to him instead of staying out in the middle of the race track because he might have got by him."
Asked about the Breeders' Cup, Mullins added, "We'll talk about it."
Captain Squire paid $6.20, $4 and $3.40.
The Argentine-bred Zanzibar, a group I winner in South America making his first graded stakes start in America, returned $11.20 and $7.
Desormeaux said the full blinker compromised Zanzibar. "He never saw the other horse. After I passed (Captain Squire), he kind of checked himself. I didn't know he'd do that, but we can fix him by correcting the blinkers."
Indian Country, who was looking for his third straight win, was $5.60 to show.
"I wanted to save ground, I didn't want to go wide," Flores said. "But when he started making his run, I thought 'Man, he's gonna run over them,' so I had to go outside. There was no room. He was making a big move though, but somehow those horses managed to hang on."
Gotaghostofachance ran fourth, folllowed by McCann's Mojave, Bilo, and Bear in the Woods.