Juniper Pass wins the San Juan Capistrano.

Juniper Pass wins the San Juan Capistrano.

Benoit Photography

'Capistrano: Juniper Pass Saves Best for Last

Colt gets up in last lunge to defeat Imponente Purse on closing day at Santa Anita.

Juniper Pass needed every yard of the San Juan Capistrano Invitational Handicap's about 1 3/4-mile distance, getting up with a desperate lunge to defeat Imponente Purse by a head to drop the curtain on the 2010-11 Santa Anita season April 17 (VIDEO).

Rafael Bejarano drove the 4-year-old Lemon Drop Kid  colt to victory in the grade II, $150,000 event on the turf for trainer Ray Bell and owners Betty and Robert Irvin. Attendance for the final day of the meet was announced as 18,018.

Brazilian-bred Imponente Purse had surged to the front in the final yards for jockey Chantal Sutherland but lost in the last jump as Juniper Pass, charging wide down the stretch, got up just in time under left-handed urging. Celtic New Year, who had taken the lead from pacesetter Power Series past mid-stretch, came up short from between horses in the final yards and finished a half-length back in third with Victor Espinoza aboard.

"I was wandering a bit in the beginning, but I wanted to make sure I was on the outside and not lose too much ground on the turns," Bejarano said of his trip aboard Juniper Pass. "I got more comfortable with my horse, then I saw (Imponente Purse) make a good move from the three-eighth’s pole. She (Sutherland) looked like she had a lot of horse so I decided to follow her. As soon as I hit the stretch, I let her make the first move. I made the second move and it worked out because my horse always shows me a good kick in the end. He definitely improved on the grass today.”

The final time was 2:47.74 on  a firm turf course.

Juniper Pass won the off-the-turf San Luis Rey Stakes (gr. II) at 1 1/2 miles by a half-length in his last start March 20 when he was ridden for the first time by Bejarano. That was the first stakes win for Juniper Pass, who was bred in Kentucky by Brookdale Thoroughbreds and cost $170,000 at Barretts as a 2-year-old in March 2009.

Dahoud led the opening quarter-mile in the marathon event but fell back into the pack along the inside as Power Series tugged his way to the front after a poor break. Power Series ran the first six furlongs in 1:13.39 as Celtic New Year and Imponente Purse tracked and Juniper Pass raced mid-pack on the outside. Power Series ran the mile in 1:40.91 and continued on the front end through a slow 10 furlongs in 1:06.92.

Celtic New Year attacked the pacesetter on the outside in the stretch after falling back some with Juniper Pass moving into contention on the outside of Imponente Purse, with Quindici Man emerging along the rail. Celtic New Year finally wrestled the lead away and set out for home stubbornly, but he could not hold off his outside pursuers.

Bell said he was concerned about the fractions but satisfied that Bejarano had Juniper Pass in "a nice rhythmic stride where he’s comfortable."            

“They were so slow. It was a concern," he said. "I thought maybe we should have been a little closer, but he really kicked on home and I was very pleased with that.”

Quindici Man stalked along the inside and finished willingly for fourth, beaten by 1 1/4 lengths. Haimish Hy, the lukewarm 5-2 favorite in the field of nine, was never a factor, finishing seventh.

Juniper Pass, who is out of the Coronado's Quest mare Child Bride, posted his fourth lifetime win in 12 starts and boosted his bankroll to $284,380 with the winning purse of $90,000.

Sent off as the second choice, Juniper Pass carried 118 pounds and paid $8.80, $5.40 and $3.40, topping a $102.20 exacta. Imponente Purse, who ran third in the San Luis Rey for trainer A.C. Avila, returned $12.60 and $6. Celtic New Year, victorious in a $62,500 claiming event for John Sadler March 3, was $6.20 to show.

Quindici Man was followed by Falcon Rock, Power Series, Haimish Hy, Romp and Dahoud. Interpatation scratched.