Imperialism, left, with Victor Espinoza aboard, edges out Lion Heart to win the San Rafael Stakes.

Imperialism, left, with Victor Espinoza aboard, edges out Lion Heart to win the San Rafael Stakes.

Associated Press

Imperialism Marches On in San Rafael

Surging Imperialism shocked even-money favorite Lion Heart in the $200,000 San Rafael Stakes (gr. II) for 3-year-olds at Santa Anita, coming from last after a half mile to get up in the final jumps and score a neck victory Saturday.

Ridden again by Victor Espinoza, 7-1 Imperialism tallied his second straight stakes victory at Santa Anita since transferring to the West Coast from Calder Race Course in Florida for owner Steve Taub. He completed the one-mile San Rafael, a major prep for the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) on April 3, in 1:36.

The gray colt by Langfuhr  won the seven-furlong San Vicente (gr. II) with similar closing rush on Feb. 7 at odds of 14-1.

"We were pretty far back. I think we came from somewhere on Huntington Street," Espinoza said. "I could feel the dirt hitting me and my horse's head. But when that happens I know I'll have plenty left for the end.

"This horse and I we get along good and obviously he likes the way I ride him, and he ran good. There were quite a few speed (horses) in there and it set up perfect for me. I know the track is fast but at this point it doesn't matter because my horse he runs the way he runs, and he got really, really strong kicking it in."

Triple Crown candidate Lion Heart, with Mike Smith in the irons, was "too fresh" for his 2004 debut, the rider said afterward. He finished 4 1/2 lengths in front of the show horse, 44-1 Consecrate.

Imperialism circled the field while five wide on the far turn and turned in a powerful rally under strong urging to just nab Lion Heart, who hadn't raced since a convincing victory in the Hollywood Futurity (gr. I) on Dec. 20.

"He's matured a lot," winning trainer Kristin Mulhall said. "He's started going in a much straighter path. He's grown up a lot. He's filled out a lot. He just has to make that one big run."

Lion Heart was outside all the way around, rushing four wide into the first turn while dueling with Hosco and Wimplestiltskin for the early lead. The first quarter went in a quick :22 3/5. Lion Heart forced his way to the front while continuing to battle Hosco through a half in :45 3/5 and the three quarters in 1:10.

Three deep coming out of the turn, the favorite edged away in the stretch but couldn't hold off the determined Imperialism.

"He wanted to run too much," Smith said of Lion Heart. "He was too fresh. And it showed today. You've just got to hope that he'll relax from the experience and run a little better next time. He's really quick. He's naturally quick. Usually there's not going to be a horse in there as fast as him."

Trainer Patrick Biancone took Lion Heart's first loss in four starts in stride.

"I think he'll benefit from this," he said. "He ran a good race. The winner is certainly a good horse, too. I'm happy. It's the first step. I'm proud of him. He fought well at the end and this is the first time he was in a real race. From what I've heard from people who have won the (Kentucky) Derby, before (you run in it) you need to have a few hard races before. This was one of them. One more next time (Santa Anita Derby) and we should be OK."

Consecrate had trouble throughout, but came on while racing wide to be a distant third, a length ahead of 9-2 second choice Quintons Gold, who tired in the stretch.

Hosco, Castledale, Wimplestiltskin, Lucky Pulpit, Spellbinder and Hasslefree completed the order of fnish. Lipan and Toasted were scratched.

The Kentucky-bred Imperialism, who ran 11 time as a juvenile for trainer Angel Salinas in Florida, will look to the Santa Anita Derby, Mulhall said.

The victory was his fifth in 14 lifetime starts with earnings of $287,605. Saturday's win was worth $120,000.

The fourth choice in the field of 10, he paid $16.80, $5.40 and $4.20. Lion Heart returned $3 and $3. Consecrate's show was $8.80. The $2 exacta was worth $49.20.