04/17/2011 9:20PM

Santa Anita: Juniper Pass barely reaches wire first in San Juan Capistrano

Juniper Pass

ARCADIA, Calif.-The development of Juniper Pass this spring left Ray Bell an anxious trainer before Sunday’s $150,000 San Juan Capistrano Handicap at Santa Anita.

“I’ve had horses in the Belmont Stakes, and the Kentucky Derby and I’ve never been so nervous than for this race,” he said. “He has been doing so well.”

Juniper Pass needed all of the San Juan Capistrano Handicap distance of about 1 3/4  miles on turf to prove Bell correct.

Ridden by Rafael Bejarano, Juniper Pass closed from fifth in a field of nine to win the Grade 2 race by a head over Imponente Purse, who finished a half-length in front of Celtic New Year, an 11-1 shot. Juniper Pass ($8.80) was timed in 2:47.74.

Bejarano had Juniper Pass in fifth for much of the race and said he chose to follow Imponente Purse and jockey Chantal Sutherland in the stretch. Imponente Purse was fourth in early stretch.

“I let her made the first move and I made the second move,” Bejarano said. “He came running.”

Quindici Man finished fourth, followed by Falcon Rock, Power Series, Haimish Hy -the 5-2 favorite – Romp, and Dahoud.

Sutherland said she felt Imponente Purse was unlucky to lose.

“That hurt,” Sutherland said. “My horse was fighting, fighting and dug in hard. It’s too bad.”

Power Series set a pace of 48.97 and 1:13.39 seconds, which concerned Bell, who watched the races with owners Robert and Betty Irvin. “I told Bob after the first six or seven furlongs, they’re walking,” Bell said. “He needs to be wound up early. He doesn’t have the quickest turn of foot.”

Juniper Pass trailed Power Series by four lengths with a furlong remaining and did not take the lead until the final strides.

“I didn’t think he’d get there,” Robert Irvin said. “I think the extra quarter-mile helped.”

A 4-year-old colt by Lemon Drop Kid, Juniper Pass won his first stakes in the Grade 2 San Luis Rey Stakes over 1 1/2 miles on a sloppy track on March 20 and has won 4 of 12 starts and $284,380. During that time, Bell said that Juniper Pass has thrived.

“He’s done so well in the last few months,” he said.

The win was a personal milestone for Bell, 57. His grandfather, also named Ray, owned the 1963 winner of the San Juan Capistrano, Pardao.