Gary Tanaka's Dixie Meister, a Texas-bred gelding who has really turned it around under the handling of trainer Julio Canani, dug deep to hold off the surging Armenian Summer by a nose to win the $150,000 San Pasqual Handicap (gr. II) for older horses at Santa Anita Saturday.
Four different horses led through the exciting stretch run, but Dixie Meister, a 5-year-old son of Holzmeister ridden by David Flores, prevailed in game fashion in a tight photo over the closing 14-1 shot Armenian Summer with Garrett Gomez at the controls.
Preachinatthebar and Jon Court settled for third, nearly three lengths behind, after taking the lead in the stretch from Spellbinder, who had passed Declan's Moon at the top of the lane.
The narrow 5-2 choice in the field of seven, Declan's Moon, the 2004 juvenile champion who has not won since capturing the Santa Catalina Stakes (gr. II) in March of 2005, faded to last under Victor Espinoza.
Since being transferred to Canani in March from the Steve Asmussen barn, Dixie Meister has won a pair of grade II races and has not been off the board in four starts.
The dark bay ran fourth in his last start, the Cigar Mile (gr. I) at Aqueduct Nov. 25 when he was 26-1 after a layoff of more than five months, but won the Californian (gr. II) at Hollywood Park in his prior race June 17.
Saturday's win was worth $90,000 and pushed the southwest transplant's career earnings to $601,210 with a lifetime mark of 5-3-4 in 22 starts.
Canani said afterward that the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) is Dixie Meister's goal.
“He was training good, he had a great post, and he ran his race today," Canani said. "The pace set up well for us, but my horse was doing good."
Dixie Meister raced sixth as Cheroot led the field through fractions of :23 and :46, with Declan's Moon, who pressed the front-runner all the way, leading after six furlongs in 1:10. They ran the next quarter mile in :26 3/5, giving Armenian Summer a chance to get involved in the final furlong, and the winner came home in a slow time of 1:43 for the 1 1/16-mile distance.
Flores said that was part of his plan.
“I knew Gomez (aboard Armenian Summer) was coming, and I wanted him to get close to me because I knew that would make my horse dig in, and he did," Flores said. "My horse was real comfortable early, and I tried to save as much as I could until we got to the quarter pole. When he saw that other horse, he picked it up again. He ran great.”
Sent off as the third choice, Dixie Meister paid $8, $4.40, and $3, topping a $100.20 exacta with Armenian Summer ($10.80, $3.80), who was making his stakes debut for the red-hot Paddy Gallagher barn. Multiple graded stakes winner Preachinatthebar, who stalked the pace and had to angle out four paths on the far turn, was $2.60 to show as the second pick.
Buckland Manor took fourth, followed by Spellbinder, Cheroot, and Declan's Moon, who finished nearly 10 lengths behind the winner.
Declan's Moon suffered his fourth straight setback since returning from 16 months on the sidelines following knee surgery. He had been crowned 2-year-old champion after winning his first five starts.
“All the speed horses stopped," said Ron Ellis, who saddles Declan's Moon. "Three horses were out there going head and head, and they all stopped and finished in the last three. Obviously, the pace was a little fast, but I don’t blame Victor.”
Jockeys Ramon Guce and Agapito Delgadillo, involved in a spill during the day’s fifth race, appeared to have escaped serious injury, according to Delgadillo’s agent, Rolando Hevia. Both were examined at a nearby hospital.
Delgadillo fell after his mount, Winrwinrchickndinr, suffered a catastrophic breakdown in the stretch. Guce fell when his mount, Sabalucious, tripped over the fallen racehorse.