Trained by Leonard Powell, who took over conditioning of the 5-year-old horse in December, Niagara Causeway now has back-to-back wins on Santa Anita's synthetic racing strip for owner Glenda Perryman's La Bahia Stud. The upset, at odds of 9-1, was the first stakes victory in Southern California for the 31-year-old Powell, who is from Normandy, France.
Niagara Causeway was ridden to victory by Jon Court in the 1 1/2-mile Tokyo City. Racing on the outside of the pacesetting Plug Me In to the far turn, the long-striding bay got the advantage and edged away from the field to lead by three lengths leaving the quarter pole. He was all out under frantic urging from Court in the final furlong to gamely hold off the rallying Church Service, who closed gradually through the lane and was gaining with every stride approaching the wire for Victor Espinoza. Big Booster, who also made a big late run for jockey Richard Migliore, finished third, three quarters of a length behind. The final time was 2:29.
"The last sixteenth, I was just saying, 'Come on wire.' We held on today, it was glorious," Court said.
Impeccably bred -- by Giant's Causeway out of the Theatrical mare Theoretically -- Niagara Causeway's failure to win on the turf has been a source of frustration for several prior trainers. He had won just twice in 13 starts on the grass before running in an off-the-turf allowance race in his first start for Powell at Hollywood Park Dec. 7. He finished third, just one length behind Tokyo City rival Rocket Legs, that day.
After a fourth-place finish in the San Marcos (gr. IIT) at 10 furlongs on the grass Jan. 19, Powell returned Niagara Causeway to the synthetic Feb. 24 for a 2 1/2-length allowance win going 1 1/16 miles.
Powell said Niagara Causeway's future is on manufactured surfaces.
"Why should we go back to the turf now? The competition is a bit easier on the Cushion Track so we'll stay there," he said.
Powell previously worked for Neil Drysdale, John Shirreffs and Bill Currin and has a dozen horses in his stable. He is winning at a 28% clip with 14 starters at the meet.
The Tokyo City's corrected fractions were :49.06 for a half-mile, 1:14.01 for six furlongs and 1:39.14 for the mile before Niagara Causeway took over on the turn.
"I knew he would be laying second," Court said. "We inherited the lead going to the far turn and at that point, I just didn’t want to get in his way. I didn’t move on him until we hit the top of the lane and that’s when I pushed the button."
Niagara Causeway improved his lifetime record to 4-4-1 in 20 starts and the winner's share of $64,920 boosted his earnings to $255,567. Bronwyn Maddocks, Andrew Harcourt and Skymarc Farm bred the winner in Kentucky.
Sent off as the second-longest shot in the field, Niagara Causeway carried 115 pounds to victory and paid $20.80, $10.20 and $6, topping a $2 exacta worth $119.60 with Church Service, who returned $6 and $3.80. Big Booster was $4 to show. Mike Mitchell conditions both the second and third-place finishers.
San Pasqual Handicap (gr. II) winner Zappa, the 8-5 favorite, finished a non-threatening fourth, 2 3/4 lengths behind the winner. He was followed by Rathor, Rocket Legs and Plug Me In.