The marathon San Juan Capistrano, Santa Anita's traditional closing day feature at about 1 3/4 miles on the turf course, drew a field of eight. The French-bred import Shamdinan was assigned high weight of 118 pounds. On the Acorn is back to defend his 'Capistrano title against a veteran group of turf stayers.
Triple B Farm's Shamdinan, now 4, began his U.S. career with O'Neill last summer after transferring from France. He locked up a Breeders' Cup Turf berth in his first U.S. race, a victory in the Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT) at Arlington Park Aug. 11. Following a fifth-place finish at Belmont Park's Man o' War (gr. IT), where Shamdinan faced older horses for the first time a month later, the Aga Khan-bred colt was turned over to New York-based conditioner Angel Penna Jr.
The Dr Fong colt was no match for English Channel, the seven-length winner of the Breeders' Cup Turf on soft going at Monmouth Park last October, but was best of the rest in the 1 1/2-mile event. In his only start since, Shamdinan gave way at the quarter pole of the 11-furlong Gulfstream Park Turf (gr. IT) Feb. 23 and finished ninth of 10.
According to O’Neill, Shamdinan has been training exceptionally well since rejoining the barn shortly after the Gulfstream race.
Jockey Jon Court replaces Julien Leparoux, who was aboard Shamdinan in the BC Turf and the Secretariat as well as the Gulfstream Park Turf. Including four races in France, where he ran third in the French Derby (Fr-I) at Chantilly, and a well-beaten ninth in the Irish Derby (Ire-I), Shamdinan has earned $1,125,013 from an overall record of 2-3-1 in 10 starts.
There are a couple of factors weighing against Shamdinan. He has never raced beyond 1 1/2 miles and his three poorest efforts in the U.S. occurred in his only races over firm going, which seems a certainty at Santa Anita.
On the Acorn, who went on to capture Hollywood Park’s Jim Murray Memorial Handicap (gr. IIT) 20 days after winning the San Juan, subsequently went to the sidelines for nine months.
The 7-year-old British-bred gelding, claimed by Mike Mitchell on behalf of Indizguys Stable in November 2006 for $40,000, has earned $416,400 since then. But his 2008 comeback has been wanting. He returned to run a promising third in the San Luis Obispo Handicap (gr. IIT) on Feb. 23, then regressed with a dull sixth as the 6-5 favorite in the San Luis Rey (gr. IIT) on March 22. Both races were at 12 furlongs.
Acting on orders from ownership chieftain Jack Disney, Mitchell has revved up On the Acorn’s training regimen since the San Luis Rey. The bay gelding, with total earnings of $578,812 from a 7-3-4 record in 30 career starts, will carry 115 pounds while attempting join two-time San Juan winners T.H. Approval, Niarkos, George Royal, Intent and Mioland. Victor Espinoza will be aboard for the fifth straight time.
Mitchell, seeking to secure his second Santa Anita training title and first since 1993, will also send out Big Booster, whom he claimed for $62,500 14 months ago at Gulfstream Park for the partnership of Anastasi, Anastasi and Ukegama. A 7-year-old gelded son of Accelerator, Big Booster’s last seven starts have been over synthetic surfaces and he'll be making his Santa Anita turf debut here. He closed well to finish third most recently in the Tokyo City Handicap (gr. III) March 29.
Though he has lost six races in a row, Big Booster came within a length of winning a pair of grade I races when he finished third behind Lava Man in last year’s Hollywood Gold Cup and third behind Tiago in Oak Tree’s Goodwood Stakes in September. Predominantly a grass runner during the early years of his career, Big Booster owns an overall record of 8-2-8 in 42 starts for earnings of $488,433. Rafael Bejarano will ride at 114 pounds.
Porfido, Warning Zone and Fitz Flag ran second through fourth, respectively, in the San Luis Rey, which was won by the front-running Boule d'Or in a classic case of thievery by a diminishing three-quarters of a length. The Irish-bred 7-year-old was not entered in the 'Capistrano.
The streaking Mike Smith, who won stakes worth a total of $2 million at Oaklawn Park with California invaders the past two weekends, hopes to remain hot with Warning Zone for trainer John Sadler. Warning Zone was nosed for second by Porfido while closing more than four lengths in the San Luis Rey homestretch.
“This horse is a stayer,” Smith said. “I even told (Sadler) the first time I rode him, ‘Man, the farther you run him, the better he’s going to run.’ He worked very well Monday morning (seven furlongs on turf in 1:30 2/5). I think he’s going to run real well. The farther the better. He’ll run all day.”
Warning Zone, a 4-year-old Chester House colt, has two turf stakes wins at one mile, including the Generous (gr. IIIT) as a 2-year-old for owner Mark Takemaka's Rising Sun Racing Stable.
Henry Pabst's Irish-bred Victorian Prince, making his stakes debut for trainer Paddy Gallagher, should set the pace. The 4-year-old Desert Prince colt went gate to wire in winning at the 1 3/4-mile distance over an allowance field on turf April 5.
$250,000 San Juan Capistrano Invitational Handicap (gr. IIT, Race 10, 5 p.m.), 4 & Up, About 1 3/4 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. On the Acorn (GB), 115, Victor Espinoza
2. Fitz Flag (ARG), 112, G. F. Almeida
3. Shamdinan (FR), 118, Jon K. Court
4. Porfido (CHI), 115, David R. Flores
5. Big Booster (KY), 114, Rafael Bejarano
6. Victorian Prince (IRE), 111, Joseph Talamo
7. Plug Me In (KY), 113, Alonso Quinonez
8. Warning Zone (VA), 114, Mike E. Smith