Multiple graded stakes winner Spring House, who snapped out of his recent slump with a repeat victory in the San Luis Obispo Handicap (gr. IIT) last month, returns in almost identical conditions for the $150,000 San Luis Rey Handicap (gr. IIT) at Santa Anita March 21.
The San Luis Obispo and San Luis Rey are both contested at 12 furlongs on the grass and both are grade II events. The late-running Spring House will have fewer rivals to deal with this time. Ten ran in the 'Obispo, but there are just seven this time. Spring House, who carries 118 pounds, adds just one pound.
Spring House and dual grade I winner Artiste Royal were each assigned high weight. The venerable grass marathoners were separated by less than two lengths in their only previous meeting.
A consistent sort for most of his career, R.D. Hubbard's Spring House had not finished in the money in four consecutive starts for trainer Julio Canani prior to his half-length triumph in the Feb. 22 SLO Handicap, a race he also won in 2008. The 7-year-old Chester House gelding rallied from behind to split horses past mid-stretch, gaining a clear lead late. He then held off the charging Church Service, who was not entered this time.
The victory was the third in six tries at the distance for Spring House, each of the victories coming on the Santa Anita grass. The dark bay has won eight times in 38 trips to the post overall while earning $838,284. Alex Solis, aboard for Spring House's last three starts, has the return engagement.
Artiste Royal, trained by Neil Drysdale, sharpened up for this spot with a fifth-place finish in the Frank E. Kilroe Mile Handicap (gr. IT) two weeks ago. The Irish-bred ridgling trailed the 10-horse field after a half-mile, but put in a good rally to finish just two lengths behind the victorious Gio Ponti in spite of being forced to steady mid-stretch.
Owned by David and Jill Heerensperger, Artiste Royal defeated Spring House Jan. 19 by 1 3/4 lengths when he won the San Marcos (gr. IIT). His prior wins came in the Charles Whittingham Memorial (gr. IT) last June and the Clement L. Hirsch (gr. IT) at Oak Tree in 2007. All three victories came at the 10-furlong distance.
Rafael Bejarano, who got to know the 8-year-old son of Danehill in the Kilroe, retains the mount. Artiste Royal has won seven of 29 starts in his career and earned $877,790.
Two other members of the San Luis Rey field come out of the San Luis Obispo -- Bonjour, who ran fourth, and fifth-place finisher Medici Code.
The New Zealand-bred 9-year-old Bonjour was in position to win the San Luis Obispo after a good stalking trip for Joe Talamo, but was outkicked in the final furlong and wound up edged for the show spot while beaten by two lengths for it all. Trained by Steve Knapp, Bonjour had posted back-to-back wins in optional claiming allowance races prior to the SLO after losing six successive races to begin his American career. Transferred from New Zealand for the 2008 season last spring, Bonjour has 11 wins in 37 starts and earnings of $230,175.
The British-bred Medici Code couldn't get untracked in the San Luis Obispo until it was too late, his mild late bid coming up three lengths short. Trained by Darrell Vienna, the 5-year-old gelding has lost nine straight since capturing the 2007 Del Mar Derby (gr. IIT).
Juddmonte Farms' Midships showed a great deal of promise in his U.S. debut, rallying for third in the 2008 Hollywood Derby (gr. IT). In his only start since then, the 4-year-old Bobby Frankel trainee made only slight headway in a nine-furlong allowance heat on the turf Feb. 26, finishing fourth as the 3-5 favorite.
The horse that won the race, You Got Me Rocking, shows up here for trainer Mike Mitchell and owners Jane and Burt Bacharach. Returning from a four-month layoff, You Got Me Rocking ran off to an impressive 4 1/4-length win in a snappy 1:46. The 5-year-old son of Aljabr figures to try theft tactics under Tyler Baze and 113 pounds.
While the San Luis Rey will mark his first try at the marathon distance, Mitchell likens the revitalized You Got Me Rocking to Star Over the Bay, a front-running type who rose through the ranks to become a multiple graded stakes winner.
“I look at this horse as a Star Over the Bay-type horse,” said Mitchell. “Before, he’d get a little worked up and hot. Now, he’s settled down real nice. I always thought he could go this distance, so I asked Tyler how far the horse could run, and he said, ‘All day.’”
Rounding out the field is On Fire, who brings three consecutive runner-up showings against allowance company to the fray for trainer Barry Abrams.
$150,000 San Luis Rey Handicap (gr. IIT, Race 7, 3:36 p.m.), 4 & Up, 1 1/2 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. You Got Me Rocking (KY), 113, Tyler Baze
2. Bonjour (NZ), 114, Joseph Talamo
3. Medici Code (GB), 115, Joel Rosario
4. Midships (KY), 113, Victor Espinoza
5. Spring House (KY), 118, Alex O. Solis
6. Artiste Royal (IRE), 118, Rafael Bejarano
7. On Fire (KY), 112, Brice Blanc