Bourbon Bay will have an opportunity to gain a significant place in Santa Anita lore as the heavy favorite in the $150,000 San Juan Capistrano Handicap (gr. IIT) on closing day of the track's 75th anniversary season April 18.
If David and Jill Heerensperger's 4-year-old Bourbon Bay wins, he will become only the third horse in Santa Anita history to sweep its three grass stake marathons in one season. The bay gelding was an impressive winner of the other two in the series, the San Luis Obispo and San Luis Rey Handicaps, both grade II events at 1 1/2 miles.
Eleven rivals are entered against Bourbon Bay in the San Juan Capistrano. Though it has lost some of its luster in recent years, the race, at about 1 3/4 miles, remains the longest turf stakes race in North America. It goes off as the 10th and final on the card with a probable post of 5:08 p.m. PDT.
Bourbon Bay would join William Haggin Perry’s Astray (1974) and turf champion Kotashaan (1993) as the only horses to have run the table in this long-distance series. (Astray’s sweep included a division of the San Luis Obispo during a year when the race was split.)
The Kentucky-bred son of Irish stallion Sligo Bay is expected to be an odds-on favorite. Assigned top weight of 122 pounds, Bourbon Bay comes into the San Juan Capistrano with career earnings of $299,424 from an overall record of 4-2-2 in 12 starts.
Trained by Hall of Famer Neil Drysdale and handled by leading rider Rafael Bejarano, Bourbon Bay has blossomed since being stretched out to 12 furlongs in an optional claiming allowance race at Santa Anita on Jan. 10.
In stalking fashion, he won that race by 3 1/2 lengths at odds of 4-1. He next won the San Luis Obispo by 4 1/4 lengths at 7-2 on Feb. 21. Bourbon Bay was the odds-on choice when he took the San Luis Rey by 2 1/2 lengths one month later.
“We purchased him with the idea that he would be a mile-and-a-half horse,” noted Drysdale.
The progression, however, took nearly two years and six setbacks at shorter distances.
“This horse is getting better every time he runs,” commented Bejarano.
Comebacking Stalingrad, the second high weight at 117 pounds, will attempt to beat Bourbon Bay on the front end.
“He’s got tactical speed,” said trainer James Cassidy. “I doubt if anybody will go (with him for the lead), so it will be all in the ride. The horse will get the job done if he gets the proper ride.”
The task will be in the hands of David Flores. In his first start for Cassidy, Stalingrad won an allowance event at 1 1/8 miles on turf while going wire-to-wire under Flores on March 11.
“It was pretty handy,” Cassidy said, “and it was his first race in a year and a half.”
The 6-year-old gelding had been off since September of 2008 when he ran second in Belmont Park’s Kelso Handicap (gr. IIT) on soft going at one mile.
Stalingrad has never raced beyond 1 1/4 miles. Owned by Barry K. Schwartz, the son of Glitterman has career earnings of $238,921 from a 4-5-0 record in 12 races.
Muhannak, weighted at 116, will try to recover the form that carried him to victory at 12-1 in the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Marathon at 1 1/2 miles over Santa Anita’s main track. The Irish-bred 6-year-old, however, has failed to hit the board in nine subsequent starts.
He’s become a stable project for trainer Ben Cecil, who took on the challenge prior to Muhannak’s last start for owner Richard Pegum, an eighth-place finish in Santa Anita’s San Marcos Handicap (gr. IIT) at 10 furlongs on turf on Jan. 24.
“We’ve been trying some different things with him,” said Cecil. “He’s more focused on what he’s supposed to be doing.”
Brice Blanc will take over the reins of Muhannak, who enters the San Juan with globetrotting income of $437,321, garnered from races in England, Ireland, Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates, in addition to the U.S. His career record is 7-1-2 in 24 starts.
Also in the field are Romp, an Argentina-bred who ran second to the top choice in the San Luis Rey and was fourth in the San Luis Obispo for trainer Kristin Mulhall, and the Barry Abrams-conditioned Unusual Suspect, second in the San Luis Obispo but fifth in the San Luis Rey.
Noted Irish trainer Dermot Weld has entered British-bred mare Princess Taylor, who was assigned just 110 pounds. Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith’s has the unenviable task of trying to get as close as he can to the feathery impost.
The 6-year-old daughter of Singspiel is the only runner in the field with experience at the distance, having raced as far as two miles. She ran fourth last July over 1 3/4 miles in the Moet Hennessy Lillie Langtry Fillies’ Stakes (Eng-III) at Goodwood.
But the lifetime winner of three races in 32 career starts faces a daunting chore in trying to become the second female to win the San Juan. Miss Grillo, who carried 117 pounds and Hall of Famer Johnny Adams, was victorious in 1949.
Michael Tabor's Irish-bred Falcon Rock won his American debut for trainer Simon Callaghan, defeating an allowance field going 12 furlongs at Santa Anita by 2 1/4 lengths March 6. He has finished in the money in nine of 10 lifetime starts, mostly in Great Britain, while earning just $54,662.
Tap it Light, winner of the 1 1/2-mile Tokyo City Handicap (gr. III) on the Pro-Ride main track March 27, will try to transfer his strong recent form to the turf for trainer Mike Mitchell. The 6-year-old General Meeting gelding was claimed by Mitchell for $40,000 in August 2008 and has won twice in eight tries on grass.
$150,000 San Juan Capistrano Handicap (gr. IIT, Race 10, 5:08 p.m.), 4 & Up, About 1 3/4 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Job Boss (KY), D Sorenson, 113, T R Bell II
2. Romp (ARG), J Rosario, 115, K Mulhall
3. Yodelen Dan (CA), V Espinoza, 113, K Mulhall
4. Falcon Rock (IRE), J Talamo, 114, S Callaghan
5. Unusual Suspect (CA), A Quinonez, 115, B Abrams
6. Skellytown (KY), M Garcia, 113, M R Mitchell
7 Quindici Man (KY), J Valdivia Jr., 115, C A Lewis
8. Muhannak (IRE), B Blanc, 116, B D Cecil
9. Tap It Light (CA), T Baze, 116, M R Mitchell
10. Bourbon Bay (KY), R Bejarano, 122, N D Drysdale
11. Stalingrad (KY), D R Flores, 117, J M Cassidy
12. Princess Taylor (GB), M E Smith, 110, D K Weld