Big Booster returns to the turf to defend his title in the $200,000 San Juan Capistrano Invitational Handicap (gr. IIT) on closing day of the 2008-09 season at Santa Anita April 19.
The 8-year-old gelding is part of a small but formidable field of six for the San Juan Capistrano, an event that remains a rarity in American racing today at its about 1 3/4-mile distance.
Conditioned by the meet's leading trainer, Mike Mitchell, the versatile Big Booster has enjoyed success on all surfaces in the past, but has concentrated on synthetic tracks in the past couple of years. His most recent grass start was in last year's Capistrano, when he rallied from last with Rafael Bejarano aboard to draw off by 2 1/4 lengths in an impressive display.
Bejarano, who has clinched a record sixth consecutive Southern California riding title, will have the mount once again. Big Booster, who carries top weight of 118 pounds, will break from the inside post.
The son of Accelerator has had one start in 2009, closing in his customary style to finish second by a neck to Stream Cat in the 12-furlong Tokyo City Handicap (gr. III) on Santa Anita's Pro-Ride racing surface March 28. The bay ran third in his prior start, the Breeders' Cup Marathon over the same surface and distance last fall.
Owned by Scott Anastasi, Wayne Anastasi, and Jim Ukegawa, who claimed him for $62,500 in 2007, Big Booster has raced 48 times in his career with a record of 10-3-10 and earnings of $808,623. Twenty-six of his starts have been on grass, including five victories.
Mitchell will also start Church Service, whose only start this year resulted in a closing second-place finish to Capistrano rival Spring House in the San Luis Obispo Handicap (gr. IIT) at 12 furlongs Feb. 22. The 6-year-old son of Pulpit was off slowly that day but rallied handily from last to miss by a half-length. Church Service has not won since capturing the Dallas Turf Cup Handicap (gr. IIIT) by a nose at Lone Star Park last May.
Mike Smith takes over on Church Service, who is the co-second high weight at 117 pounds.
Mitchell won the 2007 San Juan Capistrano with On the Acorn. Should either of his stablemates give the 60-year-old trainer a third straight victory in the marathon test won by such racing luminaries as Seabiscuit, Cougar II and John Henry, he would duplicate a feat accomplished only by Buddy Hirsch and Charlie Whittingham before the legendary Whittingham came back to win five in a row during the 1980s.
Spring House, trained by Julio Canani for R.D. Hubbard, figures to have a big shot with his stalking style. But the 7-year-old Chester House gelding faltered in his race following the the San Luis Obispo when he finished last of five in the San Luis Rey Handicap (gr. IIT) March 21 at the same distance. Spring House was vanned off the course afterward but has turned in some steady workouts since then.
“He choked,” Canani commented in reference to a breathing problem in the San Luis Rey. “It was one of those things.”
Midships won the San Luis Rey in front-running style and would appear to be a threat to do it once again in his first try at the Capistrano distance. Bobby Frankel trains the 4-year-old son of Mizzen Mast for Juddmonte Farms. After 10 starts in England, the gray/roan colt ran third in the Hollywood Derby (gr. IT) in his United States debut Nov. 30.
“It shouldn’t be that much difference for Midships,” said jockey Victor Espinoza, referring to the additional quarter mile from the San Luis Rey . “I think the farther he runs, the better. He’s a very nice horse, and he’s coming up to this race in good shape."
Midships has a 3-3-3 record from 13 starts, with earnings of $225,830.
The French-bred Obrigado hasn't won since 2007. On Fire, with one win in 12 lifetime starts, makes his stakes debut.
$200,000 San Juan Capistrano Invitational Handicap (gr. IIT, Race 9, 4:38 p.m.), 4 & Up, About 1 3/4 Miles
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Big Booster (KY), 118, Rafael Bejarano
2. Church Service (KY), 117, Mike E. Smith
3. Midships (KY), 115, Victor Espinoza
4. On Fire (KY), 111, Danny Sorenson
5. Spring House (KY), 117, Alex O. Solis
6. Obrigado (FR), 114, Joel Rosario