High Limit and Patrick Valenzuela, inside, duel down the stretch with Buckland Manor to win the San Pasqual Handicap.

High Limit and Patrick Valenzuela, inside, duel down the stretch with Buckland Manor to win the San Pasqual Handicap.


High Limit Raises Game, Wins San Pasqual

Favored High Limit and Buckland Manor hooked up shortly after the start and battled all the way to the wire before High Limit prevailed by a nose in a dramatic edition of the $150,000 San Pasqual Handicap (gr. II) at Santa Anita Park Saturday.

Under strong urging from Patrick Valenzuela, High Limit, on the inside under co-high weight of 118 pounds, had just enough to outlast Buckland Manor and Kent Desormeaux, who had fallen a length behind at the eighth pole but came on strong in the final strides to just miss. The final time for the 1 1/16-mile event for older horses was 1:43 3/5.

"He relaxed well on the lead and, when I asked him, he was up to it," Valenzuela said.

Valenzuela teamed with trainer Bobby Frankel for their third straight win on the Santa Anita program. Valenzuela, who also won the $100,000 Santa Ysabel (gr. III) for 3-year-old fillies with Itty Bitty Pretty, won five on the card.

"Once you start winning, your momentum keeps going and you seem to be in that zone," Valenzuela said. "When you ride good horses for Bobby Frankel and Doug O'Neill, how can you not win?"

Valenzuela rode six winners on a day during Oak Tree's 1988 meet.

High Limit set the pace while racing slightly off the rail, clipping off fractions of :23 1/5, :46 2/5 and 1:10 3/5 as Buckland Manor pressured him all the way on the outside. Spellbinder swung four wide for the stretch run and Turnbolt, ridden by Corey Nakatani, ranged into contention along the inside. But in the drive for the wire, High Limit and Buckland Manor turned back all challengers.

"The winner was going real easy at the quarter pole, and I was working on my horse to get a position," Desormeaux said of Buckland Manor, who carried 116. "He really hung in there and finished up well."

The victory for the 4-year-old High Limit was the first since he captured the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) on the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) trail last March. After a second-place finish – six lengths behind Bandini – in the Toyota Blue Grass (gr. I) April 16, High Limit ran 20th in the Derby and fifth in the Preakness (gr. I). The bay son of Maria's Mon-Known Romance (Known Fact) had a six-race losing streak before Saturday's win. His last start resulted in a seventh-place finish in the Del Mar Derby (gr. IIT) on the grass in September.

Frankel, who won his first San Pasqual, said he worried coming into the race after High Limit worked five furlongs Jan. 4 in :59 3/5.

"I expected him to be in front, but I was a little concerned because I breezed him so close to the race the other day and he went fast. He's a tough horse," he said. "He's been training well, and he looks better than last year; he's gained a lot of weight, and he's growing a little bit. He was a light little horse last year. It's a question of how far he really wants to go."

The San Pasqual is the first major prep for the March 4 Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I), but Frankel suggested that seven furlongs is High Limit's ideal distance. He said the colt could be aimed for the San Carlos (gr. II) on Feb. 18.

High Limit raised his record to 4-1-1 in 10 starts with earnings of $682,500 for owner Gary and Mary West Stables Inc. The Kentucky-bred High Limit was a $145,000 yearling buy at Keeneland in September 2003.

He paid $7.80, $4.40, and $3.80 as the lukewarm choice in the field of seven. Buckland Manor, who switched from the turf for the first time since June 2004 for trainer Paco Gonzalez, returned $4 and $3.40.

It was a half-length back to the hard-trying third-place finisher Spellbinder ($4.80), ridden by Martin Pedroza, followed by Turnbolt, Bully Hayes, Merlanyhasthepapers, and Sam Forli.

(Chart, Equibase)