- This weekend is the end of the Winter/Spring racing meet at California’s Santa Anita Park.
- The Saturday and Sunday racing cards featured a total of eight stakes races.
- In arguably the most significant, California bred Acclimate became a two time winner of the Grade 3 Sam Juan Capistrano Stakes.
At one point in history, the San Juan Capistrano Stakes ranked among the marquee events at Santa Anita Park. The race dates back to 1935 and starting in 1972 was a Grade 1 event. In terms of its significance it has been on a long, inexorable decline. It was dropped to a Grade 2 race in 2004 and down to Grade 3 in 2015. With a purse in excess of $100,000 USD it remains a nice payday for older horses and is a unique challenge being the longest race held at Santa Anita at 1 3/4 miles. Although it still offers a nice purse it has dropped from $400,000 USD in the past 20 years. Many observers suggest that this is reflective of the overall decline of turf racing in California.
The 2021 San Juan Capistrano was run as the main event on Saturday’s race card and it produced a repeat winner. 7 year old gelding Acclimate led the race wire to wire and was never really challenged as he went on to win the marathon event held on the iconic turf course at Santa Anita by 3 3/4 lengths. Acclimate also won the 2019 San Juan Capistrano and went off as the post time favorite paying $6.00, $3.80 and $2.60. At 8-1, Astronaut finished second returning $8.20 and $4.20 with 2020 winner Red King at 2-1 returning $2.40 to show. The 4-6 exacta paid $35.60, the 4-6-2 trifecta returned $23.75 and the 4-6-2-3 superfecta paid $9.91 for a 10 cent wager.
Acclimate had not won a race since 2019 at Del Mar and entered the event on Saturday having lost eight straight. It gave trainer Phillip D’Amato his third straight San Juan Capistrano win though he’s a long way off from equaling the all time mark of 14 wins held by the late Hall of Fame trainer Charlie Whittingham. Acclimate is now the seventh two time winner joining Mioland (1940, 1941), Intent (1952, 1953), George Royal (1965, 1966), Niarkos (1967, 1968), T.H. Approval (2005, 2006) and Bourbon Bay (2010, 2012).
Jockey Ricky Gonzalez won his first career graded stakes race on turf and made it sound like a stress free Saturday afternoon ride:
“He likes to be in front. We wanted to keep the distance from the other horses. He relaxed. I knew when he kicked at the three-eighths pole I had enough to get away from them.”
Trainer D’Amato said that the San Juan Capistrano was his favorite race as a youngster:
“This is the race I always came to see. I’d watch the race at the seven-eighths pole so I got the full experience.
He also had effusive praise for the winning jockey:
“He did a masterful job of maintaining the distance yet setting those comfortable fractions to have enough horse left. It’s a credit to him, and the horse, but to dial those fractions the way he did, he rode like a seasoned veteran at this distance.”
As for Acclimate, D’Amato said he never lost confidence despite his eight race losing streak:
“I thought today was an A performance for him. He’s definitely a horse I’d target for the Del Mar Handicap (his last victory before Sunday). He’s been lightly raced. We gave him a nice break after a little issue, and he’s come back better than ever.”
Red King won the Del Mar Handicap in 2020 giving D’Amato his sixth victory in the Grade 2, $200,000 race. The 2021 Del Mar Handicap will be run on a stacked August 21 race card headlined by the track’s marquee race, the Grade 1 TVG Pacific Classic.