Victor Espinoza is not concerned with potentially quick fractions in Sunday’s closing day feature, the Grade II, $200,000 San Juan Capistrano Handicap at about 1 ¾ miles on turf. Comfort is the key, says the 36-year-old jockey, who rides probable pacesetter Midships for Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel.

Frankel currently leads all trainers this meet in stakes wins with eight, and is second in career stakes wins with 145, behind Charlie Whittingham, who leads with 204.

“It shouldn’t be that much difference for Midships,” said Espinoza, referring to the additional quarter mile from the mile and a half San Luis Rey Handicap, which Midships and Espinoza won on the front end on March 21. “I think the farther he runs, the better,” Espinoza said. “He’s a very nice horse and he’s coming up to this race in good shape.

“We don’t run many races at a mile and three-quarters in this country, but it’s a pretty easy race to ride. For me, it’s how comfortable my horse is going, and not necessarily fractional times. Even if the times are a little fast, if he’s running easy, it won’t be a problem for him.”

Midships, a 4-year-old gray son of Mizzen Mast owned and bred by Juddmonte Farms, has a 3-3-3 record from 13 starts, with earnings of $225,830. Frankel is Santa Anita’s career leader in training victories with 916. He has 17 this meet. He won the San Juan in 1996 with Raintrap and in 1991 with Mashkour.

The field for the 70th San Juan: defending champion Big Booster, Rafael Bejarano, 118; Church Service, Mike Smith, 117; Midships, Espinoza, 115; On Fire, no rider; Spring House, Alex Solis, 117; and Obrigado, Joel Rosario, 114.


Foxysox is back to defend her title in Saturday’s Santa Barbara Handicap. The 6-year-old English-bred mare trained by Carla Gaines for owner Warren Williamson was up by a nose to win the Grade II race at 1 ¼ miles on turf last April 19, edging Black Mamba, who will try to turn the tables Saturday.

“She’s versatile,” Gaines said of Foxysox, who is coming off three straight races at one mile, including a victory in the Grade III Tuzla Handicap on Jan. 25. “I think the mile and a quarter suits her. She doesn’t have a quick turn of foot, but sort of wears them down with a prolonged run.”

The field for the 61st Santa Barbara, which goes as the ninth race on a 10-race program: Magical Fantasy, Alex Solis, 117; Step Softly, Michael Baze, 112; Toque de Queda, Victor Espinoza, 115; Persian Express, Martin Garcia, 110; Grace Anatomy, Tyler Baze, 111; Tizfiz, Agapito Delgadillo, 117; Ainamaa, Mike Smith, 114; Foxysox, Rafael Bejarano, 118; and Black Mamba, Joel Rosario, 119.


It’s been almost a year since El Merito has run, through no fault of Mike Puype. The trainer has been seeking a race for the Chilean-bred gelding for several weeks, to no avail. Somewhat by default, El Merito will run in Saturday’s Grade III, $100,000 San Simeon Handicap for older horses at about 6 ½ furlongs on turf.

El Merito has had 15 career starts, all in his native Chile, where he last ran on May 16, 2008. He hasn’t raced at less than one mile in his last 12 races, but has three recent bullet works on Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride for his return.

“He’s got some good workouts, but this race is not where I want him to start,” Puype said. “There was an allowance race a week or two ago that didn’t fill. Now I’ve got no choice but to start here. He’s got one condition left, but I’ve got to run here. He’s better routing than sprinting, I’m sure.

“When he sprinted (his first three races in Chile in 2007), they were bad horses, maidens, so to sprint with these will be interesting, but we’ll see. I need to get a race into him either way, so we’ve got to try.”

The field for the 42nd San Simeon: Euroglide, Michael Baze, 114; Prussian, Rafael Bejarano, 115; Doppio, Alex Solis, 115; Tiz West, Victor Espinoza, 117; Jungle Prince, Agapito Delgadillo, 116; Headache, Julien Couten, 112; El Merito, Corey Nakatani, 115; Mr Gruff, Joel Rosario, 113; and Desert Code, Aaron Gryder, 122.


Rafael Bejarano has clinched his sixth consecutive Southern California riding crown. With four racing days left at Santa Anita, the 26-year-old Peruvian had 91 wins, five more than runner-up Garrett Gomez, who has moved his tack to Keeneland.“I believe six straight titles is a record in Southern California,” said Joe Ferrer, Bejarano’s agent.

Chris McCarron and Patrick Valenzuela were the others to win five straight at Southern California’s major meets: Santa Anita winter/spring, Hollywood Park spring/summer, Del Mar, Oak Tree and Hollywood Park fall/winter. Actually, six consecutive titles by Bejarano would tie Chris McCarron, who captured six straight dating from the 1982 fall meet at Hollywood Park and up to the 1984 season at Santa Anita.

“Rafael was really after this one,” Ferrer continued. “We had a lot more rides (than Gomez, 446 to 326), but we were out of town a few times, too. We lost about four or five days of racing. I wish Gomez would have stayed in town, so they wouldn’t put an ‘asterisk’ besides Rafael’s title. Still, it’s been great, doing so well in Southern California. That’s the main thing.

“We’ve had good mounts and good support from the top trainers, and a good (Kentucky) Derby horse in Papa Clem. We’ve got a chance to win the Derby.”
Bejarano’s 91 victories are the most at Santa Anita since 2002-03, when Patrick Valenzuela recorded 94. Bejarano shaded Gomez last year, 67-63. Santa Anita’s record is 138 victories, set by Laffit Pincay Jr. in 1970-71.


Fans coming to Santa Anita on the meet’s final Sunday—April19—could have their mortgage or rent paid for the month of May (up to $3,500).

Interested fans should enter the Santa Anita Stimulus Drawing at any admission gate. One name will be selected immediately following the sixth race. Sponsored by Westside Rentals, the winner’s mortgage or rent for the month of May, up to $3,500.

FINISH LINES: Tomorrow is the last ‘Free Friday’ at Santa Anita. General admission is free, as are box seats, while supplies last. Hot dogs, soda, beer, popcorn and coffee are $1 . . . Saturday is Fan Appreciation Day at Santa Anita. All fans in attendance will receive a free Santa Anita Park baseball cap with paid admission, while supplies last, courtesy of San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino. First post time is 12:30 p.m. . . . Joel Rosario, nursing a heavy cold, took off his mounts Thursday for the second straight day . . . Joe Talamo, rider of Kentucky Derby favorite I Want Revenge, was interviewed Thursday morning by an NBC camera crew. The segment will appear at a future date on “Last Call with Carson Daly.” . . . Charlene Grosenbach of Santa Anita’s THOROUGHBREDS Center will present the trophy to the winning connections of Saturday’s Santa Barbara Handicap. Charlene, who started at Santa Anita in 1985, will retire in June. “This is the best working experience I’ve ever had,” Grosenbach said. “I’ve loved every minute of it and hope to get back every chance I can.” . . . Gina Lavo, Santa Anita’s chief accounting officer, will sing the National Anthem from the winner’s circle as a part of Sunday’s opening ceremonies . . . Agent Brandon O’Bryan has booked Danny Sorenson on Cornish Rose for trainer Jamie Lloyd in Saturday’s $75,000 Golden Poppy at 1 1/16 miles on turf at Golden Gate . . . Brice Blanc rides Jeranimo for Mike Pender in Saturday’s Coolmore Lexington Stakes at Keeneland . . . Aaron Hesz of Handicappers’ Report and Kurt Hoover of HRTV square off in Sunday’s final of the Fans’ Forum hosted by Jack Disney, 11:15 a.m., in the East Paddock Gardens.