ARCADIA, Calif. (Jan. 19, 2009) – Artiste Royal, whose fortunes veered off course when eleventh in last month’s $2.5-million Hong Kong Cup, got back on track in a hurry on Monday when storming from last to nail Medici Code on the money in Santa Anita’s 57th running of the Grade II, $150,000 San Marcos Handicap at 1 ¼ miles on turf.

With jockey Garrett Gomez timing his move to perfection, 5-2 favored Artiste Royal got up in the final jump to win by a nose and provide Hall of Fame trainer Neil Drysdale with his fourth San Marcos win since 1989.

Drysdale had two other well-fancied runners in the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday feature, but neither Marsh Side, seventh at 4-1, nor Obrigado, eighth at 6-1, managed to hit the board as Medici Code edged Ferneley by three-quarters of a length for second in the field of ten.

An 8-year-old ridgling who was sired in Ireland by the illustrious Danehill, Artiste Royal covered the distance in 1:59.16 while being ridden for the first time by Gomez. He had been handled by ten other jockeys since being imported to the United States from France by David and Jill Heerensperger during the summer of 2005.

“Going in, I thought we’d be lying mid-pack, but the pace was legitimate,” said Gomez. “When we came under the wire the first time, I was between horses and I decided he’d probably relax better if he was on his own. So I took back to last. I knew he was going to finish. He’s run with some of the best horses in the world. When I showed him the way, he was there for me, and I never hit him.”

“I didn’t expect him to be that far back,” Drysdale said. “Garrett said he settled really well for him. That’s where he found himself. He came home well. They went fast early. Marsh Side needed a race, and Obrigado was a bit disappointing.”

Artiste Royal paid $7.80, $4.20 and $3.80. Medici Code, who gained a short lead nearing the wire under Rafael Bejarano, paid $6.40 and $5. Ferneley, who had pressed the early pace with Victor Espinoza aboard, paid $6.80 to show.

According to Drysdale, Artiste Royal “never got a chance to race” in last month’s Hong Kong Cup. “He was boxed in,” said the trainer. The previous year Artiste Royal had faltered when traveling to Tokyo for the $4.4 million Japan Cup. But he has seldom turned in a dull effort in this country.

Artiste Royal has compiled a 3-5-5 record in 16 starts in the U.S. His victories include a pair of Grade I stakes. The $90,000 he earned in the San Marcos boosted his lifetime earnings to $871,790 from an overall record of 7-8-5 in 28 trips to the post.

Trainer Mark Casse and jockey Patrick Husbands, a leading rider in Canada, registered their first Santa Anita stakes victories earlier on the card when Congor Bay captured the 18th running of the $78,750 San Pedro Stakes for 3-year-olds.

Congor Bay, sent off at 6-1 in the wagering, prevailed in a driving finish to defeat Point Attended by one-half length in the 6 ½ -furlong competition with Cut the Chuck another three-quarters back in third. Arashi Cat, the 2-1 favorite, checked in fourth in the field of eight. The winning time was 1:15.59.

Husbands had ridden Congor Bay to victory in his first two starts at Woodbine Racecourse in Toronto last October. They were reunited after the Kentucky-bred son of Speightstown finished sixth in the Grade II Hollywood Prevue in his U.S. debut in November and third the following month in the Eddie Logan Stakes at Santa Anita.

Congor Bay’s winning mutuels in the San Pedro were $15.40, $7.80 and $5.20. Point Attended, ridden by Michael Baze, returned $14.20 and $6.40. The show price on Cut the Check, with Jose Valdivia Jr. aboard, was $6.40.

Owned by Melnyk Racing Stables, Congor Bay earned $46,530 from his third win in five races to elevate his career total to $103,748.

Santa Anita will be dark on Tuesday and Wednesday before racing resumes with an eight-race card at 1 p.m. on Thursday.


San Marcos Stakes Quotes

JOCKEY QUOTES

GARRETT GOMEZ, ARTISTE ROYAL, WINNER: “Going in, I thought we’d be lying mid-pack, but the pace was legitimate. They went 47 and one the first half, and that’s starting downhill, so I was happy with where I was at. When we came under the wire the first time, I was between horses and I decided he’d probably relax better if he was on his own, so I took back to last. I knew he was going to finish, he’s run with some of the best horses in the world. When I showed him the way, he was there for me and I never hit him.”


TRAINER QUOTES

NEIL DRYSDALE, ARTISTE ROYAL, WINNER: “I didn’t expect him to be that far back (last). Garrett (Gomez) said he settled really well for him. That’s where he found himself. He came home well. They went fast early. Marsh Side (seventh) needed a race, and Obrigado (eighth) was a bit disappointing. I think he (Joel Rosario) felt maybe the ground was a bit hard for him.”

Asked about the disappointing race in the Hong Kong Cup, in which Artiste Royal finished 11th on Dec. 14): “He was boxed in. He never got to race, and when he got back to the stables, he didn’t even drink a glass of water. They never even gave him a bath.”

NOTES: Winning owners David and Jill Heerensperger are from Bellevue, WA.