04/18/2008 12:00AM

This jock knows his San Juans


ARCADIA, Calif. - Eddie Delahoussaye was lingering in the shade of the Paddy Gallagher barn at Santa Anita on Friday morning when someone bothered him with a question. In a Hall of Fame career that included 6,384 winners, five of them in Triple Crown events and seven in a variety of Breeders' Cups, did he have any particular recollection of the three San Juan Capistrano Invitationals he had won along the way?

Delahoussaye is nothing if not polite, even when confronted by the dumbest inquiries, so he pretended to rummage through his 56-year-old memory in search of the answer. Three names soon bubbled to the surface - Ringaskiddy, Marlin, and "that one for McAnally," which the judges allowed. His name was Amerique.

The San Juan Capistrano will be run Sunday for the 69th time, while wrapping up business on a Santa Anita meet that can be kindly described as tumultuous. This will be remembered forever as the winter the synthetic main track failed so badly that 11 racing days were lost, ravaging the track's attendance and handle, and threatening its reputation in the process.

The turf course held up its end of the bargain, though, rain or shine. As a result, the eight horses going forth in the San Juan over the full 1 3/4 miles of the course can count themselves honored to be part of a grand tradition, even if this particular field boasts nothing along the lines of such past winners as John Henry, Cougar II, Exceller, Great Communicator, Fiddle Isle, Quicken Tree, or Kotashaan.

At least Sunday's bunch includes the defending champ, On the Acorn, and the runner-up in the 2007 Breeders' Cup Turf, Shamdinan. There is also Victorian Prince, an Irish son of Desert Prince, who won at the San Juan route in an allowance race on April 5. Owned by Henry Pabst, Victorian Prince will be making his stakes debut for Delahoussaye's pal Gallagher.

"He seems to be on the improve, and he can get the distance, that's for sure," Delahoussaye said. "Most of these other horses haven't been further than a mile and a half. You'd be surprised what a difference that makes, even though you might think if they can go a mile and a half they can go a mile and three-quarters. Not really."

Throughout the California portion of his 34-year career, Delahoussaye was the ultimate thinking man's rider, and deadly when given the right horse in a race that required patience and attention to detail. Only John Longden, Bill Shoemaker, Laffit Pincay, and Chris McCarron won more runnings of the San Juan, and Delahoussaye had McCarron to thank for two of his three victories.

In 1998, McCarron had been aboard Verne Winchell's Amerique, but he took off to ride out of town. McAnally turned to Delahoussaye and was rewarded with a 1 1/2-length score over Star Performance.

In 1997, when McCarron was injured in a grass course accident earlier in the program, the mount on Michael Tabor's Marlin became vacant. Delahoussaye was available and responded with a chilly, front-running ride to beat the Bill Mott runner African Dancer by a half-length.

"Marlin, that sonofagun, that day he looked like the farther he'd run the better he'd run," Delahoussaye said. "Most horses that win going a mile and three-quarters are laying fairly close, if they can relax and stay well within themselves. They're not 30 lengths out of it. That's why I was so shocked when Ringaskiddy won, he was so far back."

The California horse Ringaskiddy, bred by Bob and Barbara Walter, raced for a partnership that included trainer Juan Garcia. In winning the 2002 San Juan Capistrano, Ringaskiddy had to come from more than 16 lengths back at one point before winning by 3 1/2 lengths.

"The only way that can usually happen is if everything falls apart in front of you," Delahoussaye said. "It did that day, and he came running."

Since part of the race is on a downhill slope and the distance of 14 furlongs is not precise, San Juan clockings are fairly meaningless. Bien Bien set the record in 2001 with a time of 2:42.96. At the same time, there have been San Juans run over firm turf that took 2:50 or more. Delahoussaye noted that, because of the impact of pace over such a long distance, no two San Juans could be ridden the same.

"You read the past performances and you strategize," he said. "But once you're in the race, you've got to observe your competition up front, while you feel your own horse and keep him relaxed. The main thing is having clear sailing and staying out of trouble, but it happens, even going a mile and three-quarters.

"Even then, the race is long enough to correct a mistake, unless you get jammed up at the eighth pole. It's a great race to ride, because you have enough time to use your judgment, and make adjustments.

"I saw Demi O'Byrne a couple years ago, and he brought up Marlin," Delahoussaye added, referring to Michael Tabor's racing manager. "'Eddie,' he said, 'that was about the best ride I've ever seen.' A man likes to hear that. But still, you've got to have something to work with, and I sure did that day."