Eight-year-old warrior Jeranimo became the first horse to win the San Gabriel Stakes (gr. IIT) three times when he cut loose his patented stretch run to score by 1 1/4 lengths Jan. 4 at Santa Anita Park (VIDEO).
Rafael Bejarano won the 67-year-old San Gabriel for an amazing sixth straight time with the 6-5 favorite Jeranimo, who charged from last in the field of seven at the top of the lane to win in a sharp time of 1:46 flat for 1 1/8 miles on firm turf.
Jeranimo had been well beaten in his past three starts, including a seventh in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (gr. IT) in his most recent race Nov. 2. Freshened since, the return to form was a welcome sight for owners B.J. Wright and Robert LaPenta. Trainer Mike Pender remarked afterward that Jeranimo "means the world" to all of them.
The bay horse by Congaree also won the San Gabriel last year and in December 2010. He was second to Norvsky in the 2012 renewal.
"He would have been 4-for-4 in this race if his bone-head trainer hadn't tried to make a speed horse out of him," Pender said. "We tried to go wire-to-wire a couple of years back and Norvsky ran us down. I knew I had screwed that one up.
"The good thing about a great horse is that they forgive the humans that make the mistakes around them. He is just the most forgiving animal to be around."
Jeranimo, bred in Florida by Brylynn Farm, is out of Jera, by Jeblar.
Four scratches shrunk the original field of 11, with Jeranimo sent off the 6-5 favorite.
Bejarano was content to allow Jeranimo to lag at the back of the field while saving ground as multiple graded stakes winner Slim Shadey, the 2-1 second choice with Corey Nakatani in the irons, wrested the early advantage from Fire With Fire and Te Rapa. Slim Shadey provided a solid pace while taking command through quarter-mile fractions of :23.33, :47.30, and 1:11.20.
Fire With Fire and Te Rapa increased the pressure on the pacesetter rounding the final bend, but Slim Shadey was up to the challenge while opening up a commanding lead in the lane. Slim Shadey, a four-time winner on the Santa Anita turf, reached the eighth pole in 1:34.34 and appeared to be in control, but he had no answer for the surging Jeranimo in the late stages.
Jeranimo, after swinging three paths wide on the far turn, angled farther out for the drive and had nothing in his way as he powered home under good handling from Bejarano.
"This horse loves to sit back and relax," Bejarano said. "He doesn't like to be too close to the lead because he gets too excited. He was flying at the end and showed me a huge kick.
"Nakatani was only four or five lengths in front of me (on Slim Shadey) so I knew I just had to wait and I would catch him. I knew I had a lot of horse and just needed to wait for the stretch."
Slim Shadey finished comfortably in front of the stalking Artic North and Joe Talamo by 1 1/2 lengths. Then came Utopian, who flattened out after advancing into second in the stretch, Fire With Fire, Huntsville, and Te Rapa.
"I tip my hat to the winner, we got beat by a great horse," Nakatani said.
Jeranimo won for the first time since the Eddie Read Stakes (gr. IT) at Del Mar July 20, and for the 11th time in 39 races overall. Eight of those victories have come in graded stakes, including another grade I in the 2012 Shoemaker Mile Stakes at Betfair Hollywood Park. He has banked $1,521,364.
Pender said it was nice to win the race for his mentor, Wright, who has been ailing in recent months.
"B.J. is fighting the battle (with his health)," Pender said. "We are all confident he's going to win it and we're looking forward to a big 2014. He was 50/50 to come out today but there were a lot of things going on so he stayed home.
"We are going on a race-to-race basis with this horse," Pender added. "If he starts feeling good, we'll run him. As you can see last year we ran him with more time in between races than the year before. This race will probably take a little bit out of him so we'll re-group and see what the future holds.
"(Jeranimo's) loved in the barn. He has three different nicknames, he has t-shirts, he has a shrine in front of his stall. The greatest part is that you'll see him on YouTube flipping my shoe back-and-forth to me. He's spoiled, he's a ham."
Carrying top weight of 123 pounds, Jeranimo paid $4.60, $2.80, and $2.60. Phil Cunningham's homebred Slim Shadey, who put in a game effort for trainer Simon Callaghan after being well-beaten in his past five outings, returned $3.80 and $3.20. The all-chalk exacta was worth $13.20. Artic North paid $3.80.