Bourbon Bay will start as an overwhelming favorite in the marathon $150,000 San Juan Capistrano Handicap (gr. IIT) as the curtain comes down on Santa Anita Park for the 75th season April 22.
With six wins and a second in eight starts over the local turf course, including five grade II victories, Bourbon Bay clearly outshines his five rivals. Bourbon Bay has also proven himself at the demanding San Juan Capistrano distance of about 1 3/4 miles, winning the race in 2010.
David and Jill Heerensperger's 6-year-old son of Sligo Bay appears to be back on his game for trainer Neil Drysdale following a stretch in which he won just once in seven attempts. In his most recent start in the 12-furlong San Luis Rey Stakes (gr. IIT) March 25, he rallied from last to nip Slim Shadey by a head at the wire. Slim Shadey is skipping the San Juan Capistrano.
The race is the ninth of 10 on the closing day program with a 4:38 p.m. PDT scheduled post. The day will conclude with a charity walk on the track's homestretch for a $10 donation, "On Track to Beat Cancer," and a free post-racing paddock party with half-priced food and beverage and live music.
Bourbon Bay brings a lifetime mark of 8-5-4 in 25 starts into the San Juan with earnings of $878,536, more than double any of his opponents. Joel Rosario, who rode Bourbon Bay for the first time in the San Luis Rey, is back aboard the 122-pound top weight.
Drysdale has won the San Juan Capistrano two other times: in 1999 with Single Empire and in 2000 with Sunshine Street.
A slow pace could cause problems for Bourbon Bay, and there appears to be little speed in the small lineup aside from Harrods Creek, who ships in from Florida for trainer Bill Mott. In his most recent start, Harrods Creek finished a well-beaten fourth after setting the pace in the 12-furlong Pan American (gr. IIT) at Gulfstream Park March 24. The 5-year-old son of Langfuhr is seeking his first stakes win. Mike Smith will ride.
Owned by Hiram Polk Jr. and J. David Richardson, Harrods Creek has won twice in 11 starts on turf.
Mott, of course, shipped in Ron the Greek from Florida early last month to capture the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I).
The other graded stakes winner in the field is Juddmonte Farms' Eagle Poise, also arriving from Florida for trainer Graham Motion. Eagle Poise, a 6-year-old son of Empire Maker, has raced once in 2012, finishing fifth in Gulfstream's Mac Diarmida Stakes (gr. IIT) Feb. 25. He was assigned 117 pounds for the San Juan.
Eagle Poise won the 1 3/4-mile Valedictory Stakes (Can-III) on the Polytrack at Woodbine last December when he nipped Harrods Creek by a head. Alex Solis returns to Southern California to ride for Motion. With a 6-4-1 record in 21 starts, Eagle Poise has banked $405,568 while racing mostly on synthetic tracks.
Derrick Fisher's 6-year-old homebred Hog's Hollow, trained by Paddy Gallagher, set a soft pace in the San Luis Rey and wound up finishing an encouraging third in his stakes debut. He was 2 1/2 lengths behind Bourbon Bay. David Flores will ride.
Irish-bred Dhaamer made his United States debut for Mike Mitchell with a strong second in Santa Anita's 1 1/2-mile Tokyo City Cup (gr. III) on the main track March 24. Nine of his 11 lifetime starts came on the turf in England, including two victories for then-trainer John Gosden.
Mitchell won the 2007 and 2008 renewals of the San Juan with ex-claimers On the Acorn and Big Booster. Rafael Bejarano has the mount on Dhaamer, a 5-year-old gelding.
British-bred Bonfire Knight, a former steeplechase competitor in England, makes his U.S. stakes debut for Northern California trainer Steve Miyadi and owners Gary and Cecil Barber. He has been competing on synthetic tracks in California and won a pair of optional claimers at Golden Gate Fields this winter.
$150,000 San Juan Capistrano Handicap (gr. IIT, Race 9, 4:38 p.m.), 4 & Up, About 1 3/4 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Dhaamer (IRE), R Bejarano, 115, M R Mitchell
2. Bourbon Bay (KY), J Rosario, 122, N D Drysdale
3. Hog's Hollow (KY), D R Flores, 116, P Gallagher
4. Eagle Poise (KY), A O Solis, 117, H G Motion
5. Bonfire Knight (GB), J Talamo, 113, S Miyadi
6. Harrods Creek (KY), M E Smith, 115, W I Mott