Looking to recapture the form he displayed while finishing second in the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) of 2003, Minister Eric finally put it together for his first stakes win in the $200,000 San Fernando Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. II) Saturday at Santa Anita Park.
Winning trainer Richard Mandella, who also saddled Rock Hard Ten for victory in the opening-day Malibu Stakes (gr. I), has now captured the first two legs of the Strub series for foals of 2001. The $300,000 Strub Stakes (gr. II) is Feb. 5.
Minister Eric was seventh in the Malibu, never a factor while donning blinkers for the first time. He snapped to life in his second try under Rene Douglas Saturday, edging the favored Mass Media by a half-length and completing the 1 1/16-mile event for 4-year-olds in 1:42 on a fast track.
Mandella got rid of the blinkers this time and the chestnut son of Old Trieste-Musical Minister (by Deputy Minister) responded by racing close to the lead while saving ground behind the pacesetting Indian Country.
"Taking the blinkers off turned him around," Mandella said. "You could see him relax today. The other day (Malibu) he left there like a scalded cat. That didn't do him any good."
Going into the turn for home, Minister Eric was angled to the outside by Douglas. He gained the lead in mid-stretch and won a game battle to the wire over Mass Media (ridden by the returning Patrick Valenzuela), who appeared to be a winner at the head of the stretch for trainer Bobby Frankel.
"I rode him last time, and I know what kind of ability this horse has got," Douglas said. "I had good position the whole way. I knew Frankel's horse (Mass Media) was the horse to beat and he was game, I just didn't want to give him too much to do, my horse. From the three-eighths pole we went head-and-head and we went for it, both of us, but finally I put him away."
Indian Country blazed the opening quarter mile in :22 4/5 and completed the half in :46 1/5. Mass Media took over after six furlongs in 1:10 and completed the mile in 1:35 1/5. Mass Media, who disappointed in the Malibu as the favorite, was a determined runner-up in only the second route race of his career.
"He got pressured from the three-eighths pole home on the outside and I tried to scoot away but I couldn't get away from that horse (Minister Eric)," Valenzuela said. "I just couldn't outgain him through the final yards. It wasn't a bad race for his first time going a distance."
Skipaslew, who was a close pace factor into the stretch run for Kent Desormeaux, could not match the first two but held off the late-running Imperialism for third. Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) winner Castledale, in his first attempt since finishing 14th in a rough Kentucky Derby (gr. I) outing, finished fifth.
My Creed, Harvard Avenue, Action This Day and Indian Country trailed. El Don, Sinister G and Perfect Moon were scratched.
Owned and bred by Gerald Ford's Diamond A Racing, Minister Eric improved to 3-3-3 in 12 lifetime starts while earning $120,000. He pushed his bankroll to $562,771.
A 7-1 outsider in the field of nine, Minister Eric's last victory came by 4 1/4 lengths in an allowance race at Keeneland in April. He paid $16, $6.60 and $5.60.
Mass Media returned $4.80 and $4 as the narrow 5-2 choice over Imperialism. The exacta paid $72.20. Skipaslew, who was 41-1 to win, showed for $12.20, rounding out a $684.20 $1 trifecta.