After the pair crossed the finish line in perfect sync, another six minutes was required to determine that Bourbon Bay, a one-half length winner of the event in 2010, had indeed triumphed in the 73rd running of the Grade II, $150,000 marathon run in 2:45.70. It was that close before a rapt crowd of 16,034.
Bourbon Bay, handled by the meet’s leading rider, Joel Rosario, and Eagle Poise, with former Santa Anita mainstay Alex Solis aboard, were content to remain at the rear as the field of six loped through early fractions of 49.70 and 1:12.92 with Hog’s Hollow showing the way.
“I was probably too far back, but I was never worried about it,” Rosario said afterward. “He’s a great horse and he can handle this distance well. It was pretty close. Right in the middle of the race, I thought they were probably going a little too quick for the distance. I never panicked and didn’t try to make a move early.”
Eagle Poise got the jump on Bourbon Bay with his rally and gained the lead in deep stretch. Bourbon Bay, meanwhile, kept coming. And coming. Yet it was a little too close for comfort for the 6-year-old gelding’s Hall of Fame trainer, Neil Drysdale.
“I didn’t think we won,” said Drysdale. “I have to be honest; I thought we’d been nipped, but I’m very happy.” His disbelief was extensive. “I actually thought he hadn’t gotten there today, I really did,” Drysdale continued. “I was pleasantly surprised when they put his number up. He’s a lovely horse.”
Drysdale acknowledged surprise that David and Jill Heerensperger’s son of Sligo Bay was so far back early. “What did I really think?” he responded with a question. “‘What are you doing way back there?’ The leaders must have been stopping,” he went on. “But anyway, he got the job done. . .just. He’s a lovely old horse. He tries very hard. He’ll get some time off. This was a very demanding race.”
Harrods Creek, with Mike Smith in the saddle, wound up third, 1 ½ lengths behind the first pair and 2 ¼ lengths ahead of Dhaamer, the 5-2 second choice ridden by Rafael Bejarano. It was an additional 20 lengths back to pacesetter Hog’s Hollow. The trailer, another 8 ¼ lengths back, was Bonfire Knight, who had pressed the early pace.
Runner-up Eagle Poise was the only other entrant other than Bourbon Bay with a graded stakes victory to his credit after having won the Group III Valedictory Stakes at 1 ¾ miles over Woodbine Race Course’s synthetic surface last December.
“He ran an awesome race,” said Heather Craig, assistant to trainer H. Graham Motion, following Eagle Poise’s effort on Sunday. “He ran, really, really hard. Alex (Solis) gave him a great ride, but that’s the way it happens sometimes.” Said Solis, “I had a great trip, got it in gear at the three-eighths pole; that other horse just came a little stronger.”
Bourbon Bay paid $4, $2.80 and $2.10. Eagle Poise, the third choice at 5-1, returned $4.20 and $3.20. The show price on Harrods Creek was $3.20.
The victory in the San Juan Capistrano was the fourth for Drysdale. It was the first for Rosario. While Bourbon Bay remained perfect in his two engagements, he brought his overall career record to 9-5-4 in his 26 races.
The local racing scene shifts to Hollywood Park on Thursday. Live racing at Santa Anita will resume in late September with the opening of its Autumn Meet that includes the Breeders’ Cup on Nov. 2 & 3.