Benefiting from a good jump out of the gate at the top of the downhill turf track at Santa Anita Park, Big Kick never looked back over the course of 1 3/4 miles as he rolled to victory in the San Juan Capistrano (gr. IIT) under jockey Victor Espinoza (VIDEO).
The feature on the closing-day card of the spring meet at the Southern California oval figured to be a pretty easy test for Quick Casablanca, a multiple group I winner in his native Chile and a grade III winner on turf at Santa Anita who was sent off at 3-5 odds. But 5-1 shot Big Kick and Espinoza had other plans.
Trailed initially by longshot Dr Action and then Black Spirit, Big Kick was able to dictate his own pace, stopping the clock in 1:37.19 for a mile. The 5-year-old gelded son of Tiznow took a seven-length advantage as the field moved off the grandstand side for the first time and into the turn, and extended his lead down the backside to 10 lengths.
As the field rounded the far turn, Joe Talamo had Quick Casablanca in full gear and the 6-year-old horse gave chase and was gaining on the leader but the wire came too quickly. Big Kick won by 2 3/4 lengths in final time over firm turf of 2:46.78.
Big Kick returned $11.60, $4.40 and $3.00. Quick Casablanca was worth $2.40 and $2.10 and Starspangled Heat finished third, paying $3.40. The top two combined for a $1 exacta of $11. Finishing fourth, 9 3/4 lengths behind Starspangeled Heat, was Bailoutbobby, followed by Black Spirit, and Dr Action. Longshot American Act bobbled at the start and was eventually eased.
"I wanted to let him run out of there," said Espinoza. "I didn't want to rate him too much. I wanted to let him do it and he was doing it comfortably. I wanted to open up two or three lengths and it was so easy so I let him stretch his legs even more. When we got to the three eighths, it was time to open it up as much as I could.
"I thought that if I could open up from there they were all going to have a hard time catching me. It worked out. I was too far in front to be worried about Quick Casablanca, and he still had plenty left and enough energy to get it done."
"I just told Victor to be a little aggressive and get him on the lead and we'll see how it works out," Machowsky said. "When he came by the wire the first time, I couldn't have been happier. His ears were flicking back and forth and Victor was sitting on him...I knew he'd kick clear."
"From the half mile pole home, I was trying to make up ground," Talamo said of the runner-up. "I tip my hat to him, that horse was goin' for the distance, it was impressive."
The San Juan not only marked the first stakes triumph for Big Kick, but was also the stakes debut for the gelding bred in Ontario by Frank Stronach's Adena Springs. Racing for Stronach Stables, first at Woodbine and then in the Mid-Atlantic region, Big Kick had competed in the claiming and allowance ranks as he won four of 18 starts previous to the San Juan Capistrano. The victory increased his earnings to $254,631.
Consigned by Adena Springs to last year's Keeneland November sale, Big Kick was purchased by his current trainer, Mike Machowsky, for $30,000. He now races for a partnership consisting of Ernest Marchosky, J. Mendenhall, Arbitrage Stables, Ken Shaw, Kate Walters, and Lo Hi Stable.