Odds-on choice Bourbon Bay became the first horse in 17 years to sweep Santa Anita's three-race turf marathon stakes series when he held off Unusual Suspect by a half-length in the $150,000 San Juan Capistrano Handicap (gr. IIT) (VIDEO) in the final race of the 2009-10 season April 18.
Ridden by Rafael Bejarano for trainer Neil Drysdale in the 71st edition of the about 1 3/4-mile event, the 4-5 shot Bourbon Bay joined champion Kotashaan (1993) and Astray (1974) as the only ones to sweep the San Luis Obispo (gr. IIT), San Luis Rey (gr. IIT) and San Juan Capistrano handicaps in a single season at Santa Anita.
Of the three, this was the by far the toughest for Bourbon Bay. David and Jill Heerensperger's 4-year-old son of Sligo Bay , appeared to be all in past mid-stretch as he scuffled with the outsider Skellytown for the lead. But in an amazing display of grit, he found the resolve to not only win that battle but to find something more in the closing yards as Unusual Suspect drew close approaching the wire.
Bourbon Bay wound up winning in a time of 2:44.52 over the firm turf, with Unusual Suspect, ridden by Alonso Quinonez second, and Skellytown, with Martin Garcia aboard, finishing third, three-quarters of a length behind the runner-up. Falcon Rock also turned in a strong effort in his United States stakes debut to be fourth.
The clocking was well off the track and stakes mark of 2:42.96 set by Bienamado in 2001.
The victory was the fourth of the meet for Bourbon Bay, the three prior to the San Juan all coming at 1 1/2 miles. He started the streak with a 3 1/2-length win in a 1 1/2-mile optional claiming allowance race Jan. 6. In his next start Feb. 21, Bourbon Bay was dominating in the San Luis Obispo, which he took by 4 1/4 lengths over Unusual Suspect at odds of 7-2. In the San Luis Rey a month later, the bay gelding went off favored at 9-10 and scored a convincing 2 1/2-length win.
“He’s going to be getting a rest," Drysdale said of Bourbon Bay, a horse he purchased privately for his clients as a 12-furlong prospect. "One mile and three-quarters was stretching it a bit. We’re probably going to have a tired horse. (Bejarano) gave him a picture perfect ride.”
Bourbon Bay stalked probably about 12 lengths off the pace in the early part of the San Juan as Stalingrad fought jockey David Flores to get to the front and ran off to a big lead while completing the first six furlongs in a ridiculous 1:10.08. There was another big gap from Tap It Light in second to Muhannak, with Bourbon Bay eventually settling into fourth ahead of Skellytown.
They stayed that way down the backstretch, but as the field made its way through the final turn, Stalingrad quickly threw in the towel after going a mile in 1:36.06 and 10 furlongs in 2:01.33.
Tap It Light took over briefly. Bourbon Bay, 15 lengths behind with a half-mile left, quickly made up ground on the turn and rallied three wide under top weight of 122 pounds. He was in contention at the top of the lane with Skellytown to his inside. Those two were getting wobbly, though, as they fought back and fourth for the advantage deep through the lane. But under right-handed encouragement from Bejarano, Bourbon Bay inched away and dug down for more, getting to the wire in time as the relentless Unusual Suspect closed in.
“It looked like a couple of horses would show speed and that’s what happened," Bejarano said. "I tried to keep my horse relaxed down the hill and into the first (clubhouse) turn. At the half-mile, Martin Garcia moved with his horse (Skellytown) and so I decided to follow him. He moved on the rail and kept my horse outside because I didn’t want to get him stopped. I knew my horse would finish strong, but he got a little tired at the wire.”
Bourbon Bay, whose first stakes victory came in the San Luis Obispo, improved his career mark to 5-2-2 in 13 starts. He earned $90,000 for the San Juan victory, pushing his bankroll to $388,424.
He gave Drysdale his third win in the prestigious race, but the 62-year-old Englishman has a long ways to go to catch all-time leader Charlie Whittingham, who won the San Juan Capistrano 12 times. Drysdale last won it in 2000 with Sunshine Street.
Adena Springs bred Bourbon Bay, a $1,700 Keeneland September yearling buy in 2007, in Kentucky. He is out of Coral Necklace, by Conquistador Cielo.
Bourbon Bay spotted Unusual Suspect seven pounds and Skellytown nine. He paid $3.60, $2.80 and $2.60 and topped a $50.60 exacta with Unusual Suspect, who went off at 21-1. The California-bred Unusual Suspect, trained by co-owner Barry Abrams, returned $10.60 and $6.20. Skellytown, claimed for $25,000 out of his last start April 1 by Mike Mitchell, was $7.80 to show at odds of 25-1. A $1 trifecta paid $401.70.
Falcon Rock was out-kicked late and finished 1 1/2 lengths farther back in fourth. He was followed by Romp, Tap It Light, Yodelen Dan, Muhannak, the mare Princess Taylor and Stalingrad. Job Boss and Quindici Man scratched.