04/18/2009 11:00PM

Midships best left to run freely


ARCADIA, Calif. - Victor Espinoza was in no mood to fight Midships in the Grade 2 San Luis Rey Handicap at Santa Anita last month.

He let the colt take the lead in the turf race over 1 1/2 miles, and guided him to a comfortable win, by 1 3/4 lengths.

"I wanted to let him do his own thing," Espinoza said. "He won easily."

Espinoza admits he will be little more than a tagalong when Midships starts in Sunday's $200,000 San Juan Capistrano Handicap at about 1 3/4 miles on turf, the longest race of Midships's career.

Even with the presence of defending champion Big Booster and distance specialists such as Church Service, Obrigado, and Spring House, plus the outsider On Fire, Espinoza thinks Midships has the advantage.

"I don't think the distance will be a problem," he said.

Owned by Juddmonte Farms and trained by Bobby Frankel, Midships, 4, lost his first two starts in this country, a third in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby and a fourth in an optional claimer in February.

The San Luis Rey Handicap brightened the outlook regarding Midships in the Frankel camp.

"The way he ran the other day, I know this race is more distance, but I don't think it will be any problem," assistant trainer Humberto Ascanio said. "I think he's a nice horse. He's nice to train in the morning."

Trainer Mike Mitchell has prepared Big Booster and Church Service for the Grade 2 San Juan, a race Mitchell has won the last two years.

Big Booster has not started on turf since the 2008 San Juan. In his only start this year, he finished a fast-closing second in the Grade 3 Tokyo City Handicap over 1 1/2 miles March 28.

"It was a big race for him," Mitchell said. "I think it sets him up well for the San Juan. Big Booster has run in races when there looked like there was no speed and he ran well. I think people play into that too much."

Church Service was a fast-closing second in the Grade 2 San Luis Obispo Handicap over 1 1/2 miles on turf on Feb. 22. Mitchell held the 6-year-old gelding out of the San Luis Rey in favor of the San Juan.

"I think both of my horses are super at the distance," he said. "The added distance will help Church Service."