SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO H. | PURSE: $150,250 | 4-YEAR-OLDS & UP | GRADE 2 | 1 3/4 MILES (TURF)
Thirty-three years after his first victory in the San Juan Capistrano Handicap, Hall of Fame trainer Ron McAnally did it again April 21 with late-running Interaction on closing day of the 2012-13 Santa Anita Park meet.
Interaction drove between horses mid-stretch for jockey Joe Talamo and surged to the lead in the last jumps, holding on for a game nose victory over All Squared Away in a terrific finish. The final time for the about 1 3/4-mile distance was a good 2:44.89 over a firm course, though it was two seconds off the track mark set by Bienamado in 2001.
McAnally won the unique San Juan Capistrano for the first time in 1980 with the incomparable John Henry when the race was one of the premier long-distance turf events in America. Won an amazing 14 times by the legendary Charlie Whittingham, the race has lost its grade I status and is now contested for a $150,000 purse, but remains important to local horsemen. McAnally also won the San Juan in 1998 with Amerique.
"We only got 11 more to go to catch him," McAnally said of Whittingham. "We don't have that much of a chance with me being 80, but we're still here."
He trains the Argentina-bred Interaction for Jose Cerillo's Pozo de Luna. In snapping a seven-race losing streak, the 7-year-old son of Easing Along rebounded from a lackluster fourth-place effort as the favorite in the 1 1/2-mile San Luis Rey Stakes March 16. Interaction, a three-time group I winner in his native country, earned his first North American stakes victory.
Haras Futuro S R L bred the winner. The big bay is out of the Ride the Rails mare Inter Rails.
Breaking from the rail at 4-1 odds in the six-horse field, Interaction was slow into stride and saved ground while tracking 13-10 choice Sky Kingdom, who led Smart Ellis and All Squared Away through an opening six furlongs of 1:12.50 and a mile in 1:38.17. Sky Kingdom began to weaken nearing the quarter pole with Smart Ellis and All Squared Away taking over and engaging for the lead after going 10 furlongs in 2:03.86. Interaction advanced dangerously along the inside to take third.
All Squared Away, three wide for Edwin Maldonado, was inching away from Smart Ellis and Victor Espinoza in the homestretch while drifting out a bit. That allowed Interaction to charge through between them and he made up 1 1/2 lengths on All Squared Away to gain a neck advantage in deep stretch. A game All Squared Away fought back in the shadow of the wire but came up just short.
"The whole way around I was able to save a lot of ground," Talamo said. "Turning for home I took him out and he gave me a huge effort the last eighth of a mile. The horse that ran second [All Squared Away], you can't take anything away from him, he was pretty hard to get by. My horse just showed a lot of heart and effort, he showed a lot of class today."
Maldonado lamented, "I hit the lead a little too soon and my horse kind of played around in the lane and it cost us the race."
It was three lengths back to Smart Ellis, who edged Lime Rickey by a neck for third, with Fire With Fire and Sky Kingdom trailing.
Sky Kingdom, winner of the 1 1/2-mile Tokyo City Cup March 23 on the main track, was attempting to give trainer Bob Baffert his first win in the San Juan Capistrano.
"I don't think the distance was a problem at all, but that grass is pretty hard for him and he didn't like that at all," said jockey Martin Garcia of the favorite. "When I asked him to go, he just stayed the same, he never responded."
Interaction, who led the San Juan field in earnings coming into the race, improved his overall mark to 7-5-2 in 23 races with a bankroll of $714,463.
"It was a slow pace but he's still got that kick the last part of it," McAnally marveled of the winner. "I think the turf last time [in the San Luis Rey] was a little bit hard for him … Joe [Talamo] rode a terrific race, saved a lot of ground on the rail and managed to get through."
Interaction carried 118 pounds and paid $10, $4.40, and $3 as the third choice. All Squared Away, who also was runner-up in the San Luis Rey for trainer Peter Miller, returned $4.20 and $3.40. The exacta was worth $36.80. Smart Ellis paid $3.60.