ARCADIA, Calif. (April 16, 2009) – Mike Mitchell, aiming to underscore a second successive Santa Anita training title on the meet’s closing day, will send out defending champion Big Booster and stablemate Church Service in Sunday’s 70th running of the historic San Juan Capistrano Handicap while seeking his third straight victory in the Grade II, $200,000 marathon at 1 ¾ miles on turf.

The 60-year-old trainer, who has built a reputation for crafty claims, acquired both entrants through the claim box, and they will start as the two high weights among just six runners in North America’s longest graded stakes race.

Rafael Bejarano, the meet’s leading jockey who has ridden both in their recent races, has opted to ride Big Booster, the 118-pound high weight, while Mike Smith will take over on Church Service, who was weighted at 117 pounds.

Juddmonte Farms’ Midships, wire-to-wire turf winner of the Grade II San Luis Rey Handicap at 1 ½ miles on March 21 for Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, would appear to enjoy a significant tactical advantage in an otherwise paceless field. Victor Espinoza rides the 4-year-old gray colt who was assigned 115 pounds.

After saying he was indecisive on the status of Spring House, trainer Julio Canani decided to enter R. D. Hubbard’s 7-year-old gelding who defeated Church Service in the Grade II San Luis Obispo over 1 ½ miles before fading to last behind Midships in the San Luis Rey. “He choked,” Canani commented in reference to a breathing problem in the San Luis Rey. “It was one of those things.” Like Church Service, Spring House carries 117 pounds.

The complete field for the San Juan Capistrano Handicap, with jockeys and weights in post position order: Big Booster, Rafael Bejarano, 118; Church Service, Mike Smith, 117; Midships, Victor Espinoza, 115; On Fire, no rider, 111; Spring House, Alex Solis, 117, and Obrigado, Joel Rosario, 114.

According to Mitchell, Bejarano agonized over a decision as to which stable mate to ride before settling on Big Booster because they had won the San Juan together last year.

Since being claimed for $62,500 on Feb. 17, 2007, the
8-year-old gelding has earned nearly one-half million dollars for the partnership of Scott Anastasi, Wayne Anastasi and Jim Ukegawa. The stretch-running son of Accelerator took the 2008 San Juan by 2 ¼ lengths, which followed Mitchell’s 2007 San Juan triumph with On the Acorn, a gelding he had haltered for a modest 40,000 tag.

Should either of his stablemates give Mitchell a third straight victory in the marathon test won by such racing luminaries as Seabiscuit, Cougar II and John Henry, he would duplicate a feat accomplished only by Buddy Hirsch and Charlie Whittingham before the legendary Whittingham came back to win five in a row during the 1980s.

Mitchell has enjoyed another successful meet and he entered Thursday’s program with a four-victory lead, 39-35, over John Sadler in his quest for a second consecutive training title at Santa Anita.

Big Booster and Church Service have raced against one another but once, and that was over Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride surface in the Breeders’ Cup Marathon won by Irish-import Muhannak last Oct. 25. Church Service finished a neck behind in second with Big Booster another three-quarters of a length back in third. The betting public had a hard time separating them as well and both went off at odds of 10-1.

Church Service was claimed for $50,000 out of a winning race on Jan. 20, 2008 on behalf of partners Daniel Capen and Bob Tjosvold. That happened to be the last time the gelded 6-year-old son of Pulpit was ridden by Smith. Church Service’s only victory since the claim was in the Grade III Dallas Turf Club at Lone Star Park last year, but he is seldom far away at the wire. Church Service has finished second in the last two runnings of the San Luis Obispo and he has earned over $350,000 since being claimed.

Big Booster is the more accomplished of the two in terms of career achievements with earnings of $808,623 from his 10-3-10 record in 48 starts. The younger Church Service has won $496,800 from a 4-6-2 mark in 26 lifetime starts.

A homebred son of Mizzen Mast, Midships will be making his fourth start in this country after beginning his career in England. He was rated off the pace in his first two U.S. starts including a third in the Grade I Hollywood Derby before leading all the way in the San Luis Rey. Midships often had raced effectively on the lead in England. He enters the San Juan with a record of 3-3-3 in 13 lifetime starts for earnings of $225,830.

Spring House is a multiple graded stakes winner who has beaten Church Service in the last two runnings of the San Luis Obispo. Alex Solis rides the Chester House offspring who tops the field in earnings with $841,284 gained from an 8-5-11 showing in 39 career races.

Obrigado, who won the San Luis Obispo in 2007, has not been to the winner’s circle in 13 starts since. He has won twice in 21 outings since coming to the United States from France in 2005. On Fire, the lightweight at 111 pounds, will be making his stakes debut for trainer Barry Abrams with just a maiden victory to the 5-year-old gelding’s credit in 12 races.

The San Juan Capistrano will be contested as the ninth race on a 10-race program with first post at 12:30 p.m. The Southern California racing scene moves to Hollywood Park on Wednesday for the opening of its 64-day spring/summer meet.