Ringaskiddy draws off in the San Juan Capistrano.

Ringaskiddy draws off in the San Juan Capistrano.

AP/Santa Anita/Benoit

Santa Anita Race Report: King Juan

Published in the April 27 issue of The Blood-Horse
En route to the track the following day, Juan Garcia could hardly contain his confidence.

"Now it's the San Juan Capistrano," the trainer told his cousin Ramon. "You watch, the race is gonna be the San Juan Garcia."

Hours later, his conviction unfolded to perfection when Ringaskiddy, a 6-year-old gelding Garcia co-owns with Leonard Scofield, cut the final corner and ran away with the $400,000 San Juan Capistrano Invitational Handicap (gr. IT).

For Garcia, Ringaskiddy's easy triumph over newcomer Staging Post was the apex of a career that has spanned more than three decades. Though unknown on a national scale, the Mexican native is nothing short of a legend in his homeland. Growing up in the shadow of Caliente racetrack in Tijuana, Garcia originally aspired to be a jockey. Weight issues, however, eventually cost him that dream. Shortly thereafter, Garcia turned his focus toward training, establishing a barn that won nearly everything in sight.

By Garcia's count, he failed to lead the Caliente trainers' standings just twice over a two-decade stretch, a time when he was simply known as "King Juan." These days, his reputation has been built by turning castoffs into competitors on the tough Southern California circuit.

"He's a hell of a horseman," said jockey Eddie Delahoussaye, "because he doesn't have those big guns in his barn. What he works with, he does a great job with."

Occasionally, there are diamonds in the rough. So far, Garcia has managed to get his hands on two of them, most notably Native Desert. Once a $20,000 claim whose knees made veterinarians cringe, the gelding has earned $1.6 million--and he's still trucking on at age nine.

Ringaskiddy--a son of Slewvescent, the same stallion who gave you Tout Charmant and Lazy Slusan--appears to be following the same curve as Native Desert. Garcia pulled Ringaskiddy from the claiming ranks for just $50,000 early last year, and in less than four months, he had turned him into a stakes winner. It was a smart score over the Santa Anita lawn in late January, however, that proved to be a turning point.

"The horse is getting better, and he's learning to run long distance," Garcia said. "I knew at that moment, when he won at a mile and an eighth and he won so easy, the horse could go farther and with better horses."

His faith was soon validated. Following a fourth in the 1 1/2-mile San Luis Obispo Handicap (gr. IIT), a loss Delahoussaye blames on pilot error, Ringaskiddy turned in a career performance, dropping a tight decision in another 12-furlong marathon, the San Luis Rey Stakes (gr. IIT). A confirmed closer though, Ringaskiddy was at the mercy of a slow pace that afternoon. The 63rd San Juan Capistrano, contested at about 1 3/4 miles, practically fell into his lap.

As expected, Speedy Pick led the San Juan field a good portion of the way. Pressed by Chelsea Barracks, however, the Bertrando gelding set the tone early, clocking the first half in :47.92. He eventually raced three-quarters in 1:11.25, three seconds faster than when he hit the same point in the shorter San Luis Rey.

Delahoussaye, meanwhile, had Ringaskiddy switched off the moment the gates opened, and for the first mile or so, he saw no need to rush. Moving down the backstretch, though, the Hall of Famer keyed in on Desormeaux and Staging Post, a Pleasant Colony colt from the Bobby Frankel outfit. With the front runners now paying the price of a hot pace, Ringaskiddy simply followed Staging Post around the final turn.

Staging Post, of course, got the first jump. Ringaskiddy, however, knifed to his inside, took over passing the eighth pole, and went on to win by 3 1/2 lengths. Staging Post was three lengths ahead of Continental Red, the San Luis Rey winner, while 7-5 favorite Cagney was a dull fourth.

The first California-bred to win the San Juan since Queen's Hustler edged Big Spruce and Cougar II in 1973, Ringaskiddy went the distance in 2:44.49, joining the pantheon of stayers, featuring heroes like Exceller, John Henry, and George Royal, who have won the longest major race on the continent. It seemed an improbable victory for the erstwhile claimer. His trainer simply knew the pieces were finally in place.

"Everything worked good for the horse," Garcia said back at the barn, allowing himself a moment of reflection. "When I was at Caliente, I never thought I was going to win the San Juan Capistrano."

Thanks to Ringaskiddy, Garcia once again feels like a king.

At the Wire
The real Azeri is training up a storm at San Luis Rey Downs, according to trainer Laura de Seroux, who has the daughter of Jade Hunter penciled for Hollywood Park's Milady Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. I) on May 25. "The way she galloped this morning, four and a half weeks is a long way to wait for the Milady, but that's our plan," she said the day after the Santa Barbara. In addition, de Seroux's other inspiring prospect, 4-year-old Total Impact, returned from his near-miss overseas in the UAE Derby (UAE-II) full of vim. "He came back like he didn't go anywhere but to his feed tub," she said. "He has an amazing temperament. He bounced back from it very well." The Stuka colt, de Seroux said, also will show up at Hollywood...The thriller of the week was the $138,125 San Simeon Handicap (gr. IIIT) at 6 1/2 furlongs down the hill. Astonished appeared to be long gone heading for home, but Malabar Gold, a 5-year-old son of Unbridled, fought hard and nailed him at the wire. They finished a head apart in 1:11.73, a stakes record. Ron Ellis trains Malabar Gold for owner B. Wayne Hughes...Though Kent Desormeaux turned in a furious late rush, Alex Solis still had enough cushion to pull down his third winter/spring riding championship. Solis wound up with 76 winners, six clear of Desormeaux and 10 ahead of last year's champ, Laffit Pincay Jr. Pat Valenzuela, riding in his first meet in nearly two years, finished with 42 wins, good enough for sixth overall. The trainers' race wasn't much of one at all, with Bob Baffert claiming his sixth straight title. He sent out 42 winners...Less than a month after Grey Memo gave him his first $1-million-dollar win in the Godolphin Mile (UAE-II), 80-year-old trainer Warren Stute suffered a mild stroke while attending the races on April 14. "I'm not good, but not real bad," Stute said on San Juan day. "I'm here. Thank God for that."...Last spring, Full Moon Madness ran a solid second in the six-furlong Valiant Pete Handicap. Following a well-deserved vacation, the son of Half a Year returned to action--precisely 369 days later--and won it, defeating Men's Exclusive by 1 1/4 lengths. Formerly a $32,000 claimer, the 7-year-old gelding has captured eight stakes for the Corey Family Trust. Bob Marshall is his trainer.

(Chart, Equibase)