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FAVORED MIDSHIPS VIRTUALLY WALKS OFF WITH SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO
ARCADIA, Calif. (April 19, 2009) – Finding a paceless field in North America’s longest graded stakes race, Midships took full advantage with a wire-to-wire victory by three-quarters of a length over Spring House in Sunday’s 70th running of the Grade II, $200,000 San Juan Capistrano Handicap at 1 ¾ miles over Santa Anita’s Camino Real turf course on the meet’s closing day.
Jockey Victor Espinoza, slowing the pace to a virtual crawl, therefore provided Juddmonte Farms and Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel with their first win in the historic race since 1996 when their Raintrap just happened to be the event’s last wire-to-wire winner.
The final time of 2:49.26 was the slowest running of the race since 1989 when Nasr El Arab posted the last of legendary trainer Charlie Whittingham’s record 14 San Juan Capistrano victories while clocked in 2:51 2/5.
Espinoza stole away with early fractions of 51.90, 1:17.37 and 1:44.17 for the half-mile, six furlongs and one mile to blunt the hopes of the closers including defending champion Big Booster, who wound up fourth in the field reduced to five by the late scratch of 30-1 outsider On Fire.
Spring House, the 5-1 fourth choice ridden by Alex Solis, was the only horse to make any kind of impact among the closers while finishing well from third to overtake 11-1 Obrigado, who had tracked Midships much of the way. The latter held on for third, three-quarters of a length behind Spring House.
Mike Mitchell, who had saddled Big Booster last year and trained 2007 winner On the Acorn, wound up on the other end of the spectrum this year. Big Booster, the 5-2 second choice, beat only stablemate Church Service, the 4-1 third choice who was pulled up at the head of the stretch. Church Service walked off the course after apparently running out of air. He was considered a non-finisher.
With the public savvy to the likely pace scenario, Midships was sent off as the even-money favorite while carrying 115 pounds. In his previous start at 1 ½ miles, the 4-year-old gray son of Mizzen Mast took the Grade II San Luis Rey Handicap while leading every step of the way under Espinoza.
For his victory in the San Juan Capistrano, Midships paid $4, $3.20 and $2.40. Spring House returned $4.80 and $3.20. The show payoff on Obrigado was $3.40.
“This is the longest race ever, and you have to take your time and be patient,” said Espinoza after winning his second San Juan in three years while having handled On the Acorn two years before.
“You have to give and take with his horse,” continued Espinoza. “You can’t argue with him, but you have to let him know he needs to relax. The hardest part is the first half mile. I try to let him know there’s a long way to go, and I try to get him comfortable and into his own rhythm.
“He’s an unbelievable horse, and I knew going in that the distance wasn’t going to be a problem because I had a lot left last time (San Luis Rey on March 21).”
Assistant trainer Humberto Ascanio, deputizing for Frankel who was in Kentucky, said, “He got tired at the end. That’s why I had to put some water on his head after the race. But Victor did a good job, and so did the horse. I couldn’t have been happier with the slow fractions, and with the final result.”
With the San Juan marking the second win for Midships in his fourth start in the United States since being imported from England, he earned $120,000, which increased his career earnings to $345,830 from an overall record of 4-3-3 in 14 lifetime starts.
With the closing of the 84-day Santa Anita meet than began last Dec. 26, Southern California racing moves to Hollywood Park on Wednesday for the opening of its 64-day meet. Santa Anita will remain open for simulcasting.