04/20/2012 3:25PM

Santa Anita: Bourbon Bay faces newcomers in San Juan Capistrano

Stately Victor/Blue Grass
Bourbon Bay, with Joel Rosario riding, wins the San Luis Rey.

ARCADIA, Calif. – The prestige of the San Juan Capistrano Handicap may have slipped, but for fans of Santa Anita, the 1 3/4-mile turf race always brings heartfelt symbolism.

As the traditional closing-day feature, the Grade 2 San Juan is the end of the line. It is time to turn the page. After the final card of the Santa Anita winter meet on Sunday, the circuit packs up and moves to Hollywood Park for a spring meet that begins Thursday.

But not before one last winter look at the Great Race Place, and an opportunity for Bourbon Bay to confirm his role as California’s top distance grass horse, at least until the return of 2011 champion older male Acclamation on April 27 in the Inglewood Handicap at Hollywood.

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Bourbon Bay, whose six graded stakes wins include five at Santa Anita, meets a modest field Sunday in the $150,000 San Juan. His rivals have combined to win all of one graded stakes, a Group 3 on synthetic at Woodine. It is obvious that Neil Drysdale-trained Bourbon Bay, owned by David and Jill Heerensperger, is the class of the San Juan field.

What remains unclear is Bourbon Bay’s effectiveness at the distance.

Though he won the 2010 San Juan as a mere 4-year-old, Bourbon Bay was fully extended. It could be 1 3/4 miles is a stretch for Bourbon Bay, now 6, who enters the 2012 San Juan following a March 25 win in the Grade 2 San Luis Rey at 1 1/2 miles.

If distance is an issue for the class of the field, the opposite is true for Bourbon Bay’s main rivals. Dhaamer and Eagle Poise have only marginal qualifications for a Grade 2, but neither will have trouble with the 1 3/4-mile trip.

Eagle Poise is based on the East Coast with Graham Motion, whose reason for shipping to California is simple. “Clearly the reason we’re coming out is the distance. That’s the appeal of coming out,” Motion said.

Dhaamer is based in California with Mike Mitchell, who relishes the idea of more ground after a good U.S. dirt debut at 1 1/2 miles.

“The distance is no problem,” Mitchell said. “A mile and three-quarters is better than a mile and a half.”

Dhaamer finished second March 24 in the Grade 3 Tokyo City.

Eagle Poise, 6 for 21, actually faces two challenges – class and surface. His four starts on turf produced one allowance win, and Motion concedes there are question regarding class and preferred surface at age 6.

“The jury is out a little bit whether he is a synthetic specialist,” Motion said.

Eagle Poise, a former Juddmonte Farms horse previously trained by Bill Mott, has won 5 of 14 on synthetic, including a Grade 3, 1 3/4-mile race on the Woodbine synthetic.

Eagle Poise runs for the first time since Feb. 26, when he finished fifth in a Grade 2 at Gulfstream Park. Eagle Poise was 10-1 in that 1 3/8-mile turf race, and never got close. Nonetheless, Eagle Poise will be among the San Juan contenders. Alex Solis, former California jockey and three-time San Juan winner, will ride.

Dhaamer makes his second U.S. start for Mitchell after missing by a neck in a dirt marathon one month ago.

“He won’t bounce,” Mitchell said. “He came out of it really good. I had a lot of long-distance, long gallops. I think he will improve.” Rafael Bejarano rides Dhaamer.

Bourbon Bay’s jockey Joel Rosario will lead the standings for a second straight winter meet. Rosario led Bejarano 85-67 going into Friday.

Other starters in the San Juan, race 9 of 10, include Hog’s Hollow, Bonfire Knight and Harrods Creek.