A new jockey, an equipment change and a first start on the main track all added up to the initial stakes victory for Juniper Pass in the off-the-turf San Luis Rey Stakes (gr. III) at rain-soaked Santa Anita March 20 (VIDEO).
Racing on a sloppy track in the $150,000 event, Juniper Pass tracked Dahoud all the way around and prevailed in a long stretch duel by a half-length to produce a mild 9-2 upset with Rafael Bejarano aboard. The final time for the 1 1/2-mile event was 2:32.64.
The San Luis Rey, originally a grade II on the turf, was reduced to a grade III with the surface change pending a final decision by the American Graded Stakes Committee.
Trainer Ray Bell took blinkers off the 4-year-old Juniper Pass for the first time and also replaced Brice Blanc, who had ridden the Lemon Drop Kid colt in all 10 of his previous races, with Bejarano.
“I left it up to the jock and thank God I did," Bell said. "He knew what kind of pace they were going. It all worked out well, so we’re happy.”
Juniper Pass earned the third win of his career for owners Betty and Robert Irvin and boosted his earnings to $194,380. Brookdale Thoroughbreds bred Juniper Pass, who is out of the Coronado's Quest mare Child Bride, in Kentucky. The winning bay colt sold for $170,000 as a 2-year-old at Barretts in March 2009.
Usually reserved off the early pace, Juniper Pass was placed close to the leader Dahoud soon after the start and those two raced close together in front of favored Haimish Hy and Imponente Purse for the entire journey. The New Zealand-bred Dahoud, ridden by Joel Rosario, maintained the advantage over Juniper Pass through an opening half-mile of :51.25, six furlongs in 1:17.95 and a mile in 1:43.44.
Dahoud inched away on the final turn and took a comfortable lead into the stretch. But Juniper Pass, on the outside, challenged and put his head in front at the eighth pole. Dahoud fought back, however, and the two battled the rest of the way before Juniper Pass, under strong urging, got the edge in the final strides.
“My horse ran really well for his first time on the dirt," Bejarano said. "He surprised everybody. I knew (Dahoud) was going to go to the lead and try and slow the pace. My only chance was to put my horse right behind the speed the whole way around. I’m glad it worked out. My horse showed me a big kick in the stretch.”
It was 4 1/2 lengths back to the Brazilian-bred Imponente Purse in third with Chantal Sutherland aboard. They finished 7 1/2 lengths ahead of 17-10 choice Haimish Hy, who was followed by Romp and Falcon Rock. Haimish Hy was the 123-pound top weight in a field reduced to six by a pair of scratches.
Juniper Pass was coming off a fifth-place finish in the San Luis Obispo Stakes (gr. IIT) on grass at the San Luis Rey distance. The first two finishers in that race, Champ Pegasus and Bourbon Bay, are in Dubai to run in the $5 million Sheema Classic (UAE-I) March 26.
Carrying 118 pounds, Juniper Pass paid $11.20, $4.20 and $3.20 and keyed a $38.20 exacta as the third choice. Dahoud, making his United States stakes debut for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, returned $3.60 and $3. Imponente Purse was $3.60 to show.
Buenos Dias and Restless Soul scratched.