Mitchell, who won 33 races during the meet, and Bejarano, with 67 total victories, each wrapped up their respective championships on the final day.
Switching from synthetic track to turf and ridden for the first time by Bejarano, the 7-year-old Big Booster surged from the back of the pack with a quarter-mile left in the about 1 3/4-mile event and left the leaders behind in the final furlong to win by 2 1/4 lengths over Warning Zone. Porfido finished third, 1 1/4 lengths farther behind, edging the 2007 San Juan Capistrano winner, On the Acorn, for the show spot by a half-length.
“I’m very happy," said Bejarano, who won four races on closing day to sew up the riding title, which he won in spite of missing three weeks with a compressed vertebrae injury. "I saw in The Form this horse likes to come from behind all the time. There was a lot of speed in the race and I just had to follow instructions. He ran great and it’s really an honor to be leading rider here. I had the injury, but we came back and everything is great.”
Favored On the Acorn, also trained by Mitchell, made a nice bid on the final turn and was poised to collar the pacesetting Victorian Prince in upper stretch. But on the extreme outside, Big Booster was charging hard after being held in reserve for most of the journey. He never really managed to switch leads or stop gawking into the stands, but he swept past his stablemate and his other rivals to win handily. The final time was a strong 2:45.50 on a very firm course.
Victorian Prince, given some head while being tracked by grade I winner Shamdinan into the final turn, set fractions of :49.34 for the half-mile, 1:13.15 for three-quarters and 1:39.14 for the mile. By the time they had completed 10 furlongs in 2:04.70, Victorian Prince was under heavy pressure from On the Acorn, Porfido and Warning Zone on the leader's outside as Shamdinan, the runner-up in the 2007 Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT), gave way. Warning Zone, stuck with a wide trip throughout, finished a game second under Mike Smith, while Porfido and David Flores outfought On the Acorn and Victor Espinoza in the final stages.
The versatile Accelerator gelding Big Booster, who won four of 25 races on grass earlier in his career, had done all of his recent running on synthetic tracks. Claimed for $62,500 at Gulfstream Park in February and transferred to Southern California last spring, Big Booster posted third-place finishes in the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) and Goodwood (gr. I) for Mitchell and the ownership team of Scott Anastasi, Wayne Anastasi and Jim Ukegawa last year. The winner snapped a six-race losing skid against graded company since his last victory in an allowance race at Hollywood Park 11 months ago.
"We've run some great races with Booster but we never quite got over the hump," said co-owner Scott Anastasi. "But today was his day."
Big Booster closed smartly in a third-place finish in the 1 1/2-mile Tokyo City Handicap (gr. III) on the synthetic track last time out March 29, giving Mitchell reason to believe his charge would appreciated the added distance. The bay, a veteran of 43 lifetime starts, has now won nine times while boosting his earnings to $638,433. The San Juan victory, Big Booster's first graded win, was worth $150,000. Thomas/Lakin/Kintz bred the winner in Kentucky.
Mitchell was at the Ocala sale in Florida and missed the race.
“I just told Rafael to wait as long as possible and make your move wide, said Phil D'Amato, Mitchell's assistant. "Last time (third by three-quarters of a length in the Tokyo City Handicap on March 29), maybe he moved a little too early and kind of just flattened out a little bit, and he’s just a one-run closer. We had a feeling On the Acorn would be a little bit closer today, and he was, and he ran a much-improved race, but he just flattened out at the end.”
Overlooked in the wagering as the fourth choice in a field of seven, Big Booster paid $16, $8.60 and $4.60. Warning Zone, third behind the runner-up Porfido in the San Luis Rey Handicap (gr. IIT) March 22, reversed places with his rival here, returning $5.20 and $3.20 and rounding out a $2 exacta worth $75.60. The Chilean-bred Porfido was $3 to show for trainer Bobby Frankel.
After On the Acorn, the 5-2 choice, came Fitz Flag, Victorian Prince and Shamdinan. The outsider Plug Me In scratched.
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