Everything went right for front-running Midships in the $196,000 San Juan Capistrano Invitational Handicap (gr. IIT) (VIDEO) as he held sway over the up-against-it Spring House on a warm closing day afternoon April 19 at Santa Anita Park.
The about 1 3/4-mile distance of the San Juan Capistrano proved, as jockey Victor Espinoza had predicted, to be no problem for Juddmonte Farms' homebred Midships, who made it back-to-back grade II wins at the meet with his three-quarters of a length victory. Bobby Frankel, second all time on Santa Anita's list of stakes winning trainers, won his first Capistrano since 1996 with Raintrap.
An even-money choice against four opponents, Midships could not have a more favorable set-up for his first try at the distance. His rivals all prefer to come from behind, and Espinoza was able to exploit his advantage to the fullest, taking an easy lead as the field proceeded single file at a near canter -- six furlongs in 1:17.37, a mile in 1:44.17, and 10 furlongs in 2:09.93.
With a quarter-mile to run, Obrigado, who was tugging early while racing in second all the way around for Joel Rosario, increased the pressure, and third-place Spring House, a couple of lengths farther back, also began to pick it up. Big Booster, last year's Capistrano winner and second choice this time, loomed up as well for leading rider Rafael Bejarano, although his stablemate Church Service was eased out of the race by MIke Smith.
But at the top of the stretch, Espinoza delivered a couple of taps of the whip, and Midships responded immediately to spurt away again. Spring House continued to close in relentlessly but Midships had plenty in reserve to reach the wire in front. The final time was a slow 2:49.26 on firm going.
"He got tired at the end," said Humberto Ascanio, Frankel's West Coast assistant. "That’s why I had to put some water on his head after the race. But Victor did a good job, and so did the horse. I couldn’t have been happier with the slow fractions, and with the final result.”
Spring House finished three parts of a length in front of third-place Obrigado. Big Booster angled out for the drive but failed to rally.
Midships, gate-to-wire winner of the 1 1/2-mile San Luis Rey Handicap (gr. IIT) under Espinoza March 21, has won two of four American starts since last fall for Frankel. He began his U.S. career with a third-place finish in the 10-furlong Hollywood Derby (gr. IT) Nov. 30. The 4-year-old son of Mizzen Mast began his career in Great Britain with a pair of victories in 10 tries. The winning purse of $120,000 increased his career earnings to $345,475.
"You have to give and take with this horse," Espinoza said. "You can’t argue with him, but you have to let him know he needs to relax. The hardest part is the first half mile. I try to let him know there’s a long way to go, and I try to get him comfortable and into his own rhythm. He’s an unbelievable horse, and I knew going in that the distance wasn’t going to be a problem because I had a lot left last time.”
The gray/roan colt is out of Interim (by Sadler's Wells).
Midships carried 115 pounds, getting three pounds from Big Booster and two from Spring House, and paid $4, $3.20, and $2.40. Spring House, who suffered a breathing problem while chasing Midships in the San Luis Rey and was vanned off the course, gave a game effort while returning $4.80 and $3.20. Obrigado, still winless since 2007 for trainer Neil Drysdale, returned $3.40.
Big Booster finished fourth, 4 1/4 lengths behind the winner. After being pulled up on the final turn, Church Service walked off the course. On Fire scratched.