Bourbon Bay wins the San Juan Capistrano.

Bourbon Bay wins the San Juan Capistrano.

Benoit Photography

Bourbon Bay Surges in San Juan Capistrano

Neil Drysdale's gallant gelding stages dramatic late run to nose out Eagle Poise.

The longest race at Santa Anita Park, the closing day $150,000 San Juan Capistrano Handicap (gr. IIT) (VIDEO), was settled by about an inch when Bourbon Bay came from far out of it at the quarter pole to tag upset-minded Eagle Poise at the wire April 22.

Neither 5-1 shot Eagle Poise, ridden by Alex Solis, nor even-money favorite Bourbon Bay, with Joel Rosario aboard, were anywhere near the pace. But both came home charging down the Santa Anita turf course in heart-pounding style to stage a memorable finish. It took stewards more than six minutes to make a determination of the winner.

This is getting to be old hat for Bourbon Bay, who came from well out of things in the 1 1/2-mile San Luis Rey Stakes (gr. IIT) to win by a head March 25 with Rosario riding him for the first time. Rosario was much farther behind in the San Juan but 6-year-old Bourbon Bay, a tiger on the Santa Anita turf, would not be denied no matter how precarious things were.

“I was probably too far back but I was never worried about it," said Rosario, who was a runaway winner of the jockey title at Santa Anita this season. "He’s a great horse and he can handle this distance well. It was pretty close. Right in the middle of the race I thought they were probably going a little too quick for the distance. I never panicked and didn’t try to make a move early.”

Trainer Neil Drysdale picked up his fourth win in the San Juan and his second in the about 1 3/4-mile event with the 122-pound high weight Bourbon Bay, who previously won the race in 2010. The winning time was 2:45.70, well off the course and stakes record of 2:42.96 established by Bienamado in 2001.

Drysdale, commenting on the closeness of the finish, said he didn't think Bourbon Bay had won. “I have to be honest; I thought we’d been pipped, but I’m very happy. He’s a lovely horse. I actually thought he hadn’t gotten there today, I really did. I was pleasantly surprised when they put his number up.”

The Hall of Fame trainer had complained following the San Luis Rey that Rosario let Bourbon Bay get too far behind. This time, he said with a smile, "I don't know who was sleeping, the jockey or the horse. But he'a a great horse."

Bourbon Bay, a gelding by Sligo Bay out of the Conquistador Cielo mare Coral Necklace, certainly is a great horse at Santa Anita, where he has taken seven of nine starts on the turf including a half-dozen grade II triumphs.

Drysdale is a former assistant to the great Charles Whittingham, who won an incredible 14 renewals of the San Juan Capistrano. Asked if he thought he'd be able to catch his mentor, Drysdale deadpanned, "I think I'll run out of time."

David and Jill Heerensperger own Bourbon Bay, who was bred in Kentucky by Adena Springs.

Facing five opponents in the San Juan Capistrano, Bourbon Bay dropped back to last soon after the start as Hog's Hollow went to the front and set a solid pace for the distance. Hog's Hollow covered the opening six furlongs in 1:12.92, the mile in 1:38.19, and 10 furlongs in 2:03.44 as Harrods Creek, Bonfire Knight, and Dhaamer tracked. Eagle Poise and Bourbon Bay trailed, with Bourbon Bay more than 15 lengths behind with a half-mile to run.

Harrods Creek made a big move for Mike Smith on the final turn and opened up quickly in the stretch to lead by about four lengths as Eagle Poise and Solis wound up their charge. Bourbon Bay still had just one beaten at the top of the stretch with about nine lengths to make up. Eagle Poise swept past a weakening Harrods Creek in deep stretch and appeared headed for victory under strong right-handed urging from Solis.

But Bourbon Bay, still fourth at the furlong mark and nearly six lengths behind under left-handed urging, was building tremendous momentum. Rosario coaxed just enough out of him to reach the wire first in the final lunge.

Solis had no excuse for Eagle Poise.

“I had a great trip, got it in gear at the three-eighths pole," he said. "(Bourbon Bay) just came a little stronger.”

Bourbon Bay improved his career record to 9-5-4 in 26 races and bumped his earnings to $968,536 with the winner's share of $90,000.

Drysdale said Bourbon Bay deserves a vacation. "This was a very demanding race,” he said.

It was a heartbreaking loss for Riverdee Stable's Eagle Poise, who was shipped from Kentucky by Graham Motion.

“He ran an awesome race," said Motion's assistant, Heather Craig. "He ran really, really hard. Alex gave him a great ride but that’s the way it happens sometimes, I guess.”

Bourbon Bay paid $4, $2.80, and $2.10, combining with Eagle Poise ($4.20, $3.20) for a $7.20 exacta. Harrods Creek finished a clear third, 2 1/4 lengths behind Eagle Poise, and paid $3.20 to show.

Irish-bred Dhaamer was next, followed distantly by Hog's Hollow and Bonfire Knight.