Johar (#8) readies to catch The Tin Man (#3) and Grammarian (#1) to win the San Marcos Stakes.

Johar (#8) readies to catch The Tin Man (#3) and Grammarian (#1) to win the San Marcos Stakes.

Benoit photo

Johar Thunders Home in San Marcos

The Thoroughbred Corp.'s rapidly blossoming Johar unleashed an explosive stretch run to prevail in the final jump by a head over The Tin Man and Grammarian in Monday's exciting $150,000 San Marcos Stakes (gr. IIT) on the grass for older horses at Santa Anita.

Thanks to a fast pace by Grammarian, who led every step of the way until reaching the wire, and the Tin Man, who remained on Grammarian's flanks through the entire 1 1/4-mile turf test, Johar set a stakes record of 1:57.92. The former mark of 1:58.02 was set by Classic Fame in 1992.

Ridden by Alex Solis, Johar, who carried 120 pounds to victory, has won three consecutive graded stakes on the turf with his patented late kick. This was his first win against older horses.The 4-year-old son of Gone West also won the Oak Tree Derby (gr. IIT) on Oct. 12 and the Hollywood Derby (gr. IT) on Dec. 2 in similar late-running style.

Richard Mandella trained both the winner and runner-up The Tin Man, who was ridden by Mike Smith. The Tin Man was making his first start since finishing fourth in the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) at Arlington Oct. 26.

"All those little losses we had in the summer, he's kind of winning them now," Mandella said. "I think he's just a horse that just gets better and better with age. By the end of this year, I think we're going to be pretty excited. I'm already excited."

Mandella said he has high hopes for both of his horses. "I thought there was a little room to grow on both of them, in their training, so I'm very optimistic to what the rest of the year would be."

Grammarian, who employed front-running tactics in winning the San Gabriel (gr. IIT) at Santa Anita Dec. 29, was intent on doing the same in the San Marcos. Ridden by Jose Valdivia Jr., Grammarian grabbed the lead from his inside post in the field of seven, quickly moving off the rail while setting quick splits for the distance of :23.28, :46.77, 1:10.80 and 1:34.14 for the mile.

Grammarian could not shake The Tin Man, however. As they reached mid-stretch, the leader had a one-length advantage, but the son of Affirmed wasn't done, coming on again in an all-out drive to nose out Grammarian at the wire. While those two went head-and-head for the lead, Johar, way out in the middle of the track, swept past the rest of the field and took dead aim on the finish line.

"It was really exciting," said Solis. "Thank God my horse is so game. I didn't know if he was going to make it."

"It was a heck of a finish. I thought I had it until the last jump," Smith, aboard The Tin Man.

Harrisand, who stalked the pacesetters from the inside throughout, was fourth, beaten by less than a length for it all.

The homebred Johar, out of Windsharp, who did not race at 2, is now 5-for-12 lifetime. Monday's Martin Luther King Jr. feature winning purse of $90,000 pushed his career earnings to $672,215.

Sent off as the second choice to his stablemate at 2-1, Johar paid $6.60, $2.80 and $2.40. The Tin Man returned $3 and $2.40. Grammarian, the third choice in the wagering, was $2.80 for the show. The $2 Mandella exacta was $16.60.

(Chart, Equibase)