The Thoroughbred Corporation's homebred Popular was headed in the stretch by 13-10 favorite Roman Dancer, then fought back to the lead under jockey Victor Espinoza to win Sunday's $107,900 San Miguel Stakes (gr. III) by a nose at Santa Anita. On a fast track, the 3-year-old son of Saint Ballado completed the six furlongs in 1:09.
"I have a lot of confidence in this horse, and I rode him hard the whole way, and you can see how game he was," said Espinoza. "I didn't want to get beat in a close one like in the (Hollywood Prevue). He didn't want to lose, and neither did I."
The top pair cleared third-place Royal Moro by four lengths. Bringem Jung and Distinction completed the order of finish.
"That's a pretty tough loss," said Chris Paasch, trainer of Roman Dancer. "I thought we had the race won at the eighth pole, and I'm pretty disappointed."
Popular earned $64,740 for his second career win from five starts. Popular rebounded from a disappointing seventh-place finish in a Dec. 26 allowance race in his most recent start prior to Sunday. The Bob Baffert trainee finished second to the promising Fonz's in the seven-furlong Hollywood Prevue Stakes (gr. III) after earning his first career win in a six-furlong race at Santa Anita.
"Last time, he got hot in the paddock and he didn't get away from the gate very well," said assistant trainer Jim Barnes. "Today, he was much better. The way this horse ran at Hollywood showed me that he would fight, and we were just really pleased with how he battled it out today."
Popular returned $9.00, $3.40, and $2.60 and topped a $1 exacta worth $11.30. Roman Dancer paid $2.80 and $2.20. Royal Moro, who finished second in the Dec. 26 allowance race in which the winner finished seventh, paid $2.60.
Popular is the first product of the Gone West mare Western Lady. (Chart, Equibase