Spring House successfully defended his San Luis Obispo Handicap (gr. IIT) (VIDEO) title on the Santa Anita turf Feb. 22, surging past odds-on favorite Zambezi Sun in deep stretch to win the $150,000 event.
Jockey Alex Solis brought the 6-1 shot Spring House from off the rail to split the gap between Kris Silver and Zambezi Sun, who were vying for the lead with Bonjour past mid-stretch in the 1 1/2-mile test. Spring House quickly opened a clear advantage under urging and held the fast-closing Church Service safe by a half-length. Attempted Humor was a half-length back in third, with Bonjour finishing fourth. The final time was a so-so 2:27.26 over firm ground.
British-bred Zambezi Sun, the 9-10 favorite, finished sixth in his American debut for trainer Bobby Frankel and Juddmonte Farms.
Spring House, owned and co-bred by R.D. Hubbard, picked up his first victory since taking the Del Mar Handicap Aug. 23. Trainer Julio Canani said Spring House, who finished ninth in the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) over the same course and distance Oct. 25, had developed a breathing problem that he was able to cure by making a change in equipment.
“I put a figure eight (bridle) on him," Canani said. "He had trouble breathing, and I was thinking of giving him an operation, but I changed my mind. I checked with three different veterinarians and I decided just to put a figure eight on him, and it worked out.”
The 7-year-old son of Chester House dropped back early as Kris Silver set a fairly quick pace for the distance while being pushed along on his outside by Zambezi Sun, a group I winner in France. The half-mile fraction was :48.84 with six furlongs going in 1:14.18. Rounding the turn for home, Garrett Gomez could keep the brakes on no longer and Zambezi Sun, making his first start since the Prix de l'Arc Triomphe Oct. 5, moved up alongside of the pacesetter.
In the homestretch, Kris Silver fought back along the inside and Zambezi Sun began to weaken approaching mid-stretch, allowing room for the steadily progressing Spring House to rally between horses with urging from Solis. Church Service, under Rafael Bejarano, finished best of all on the outside after a slow start but ran out of time with his belated bid.
“I learned quite a bit about him the last two times I rode him, but Julio has been working with him and in his last few works he’s figured out what he needed," Solis said of Spring House. "He’s always had a lot of class. Today, he was on the bit the whole way and when that hole opened up in the stretch, he went through it like a bullet. I thought there would be more pace, but I ended up in a good position and so I had no complaints.”
Gomez said Zambezi Sun was difficult to handle in his U.S. bow.
“He was getting out the whole way with me," Gomez said of the favorite. "I was having trouble keeping him on the race track. Going around there the first time, he was OK, but by the time he got to the first turn, I had two hands on one rein and he was wanting to get out and just get rank all at the same time.”
Spring House was the 17-10 choice when he won last year's San Luis Obispo, a major local prep stakes for the San Juan Capistrano Handicap (gr. IIT) at about 1 3/4 miles on April 19. The dark bay gelding was overlooked this time in spite of some high-profile scratches. Frankel took out his dual grade I winner Champs Elysees while Neil Drysdale declared both Marsh Side and Artiste Royal, also grade I victors.
The victory improved Spring House's career record to 8-5-11 in 38 starts with earnings of $838,284. Spring House, who earned $90,000 for the victory, became the second back-to-back winner of the race. Great Communicator won in 1988-89. Spring House ran fourth in his most recent start, the 10-furlong San Marcos Stakes (gr. IIT), losing by 1 3/4 lengths to Artiste Royal.
Canani, who won his third San Luis Obispo, said Spring House would stay at Santa Anita for his next start in the $150,000 San Luis Rey Handicap at 1 1/2 miles on turf on March 21. Spring House went to Dubai last year following his 2 1/4-length triumph in the San Luis Obispo and ran 10th after setting the pace in the $5 million Dubai Sheema Classic (UAE-I).
Spring House, the fourth choice in the field of 10, carried 117 pounds to victory and paid $15.20, $7.20 and $5.20. The former claimer Church Service, coming off a third-place finish in the Hollywood Turf Cup (gr. IT) Dec. 6 for trainer Mike Mitchell, returned $6.60 and $4. The $2 exacta was $61. The show on Attempted Humor, making his graded stakes debut for trainer Todd Pletcher, was $6.60 with Mike Smith aboard.
It was one length to the New Zealand-bred Bonjour, followed by Medici Code, Zambezi Sun, Lightning Hit, Obrigado, Kris Silver and Mr. Universo. On Fire also scratched.