02/05/2013 3:37PM

Santa Anita: San Marcos a good fit for Juniper Pass


ARCADIA, Calif. – Luck deserted Juniper Pass and jockey Julien Leparoux at the worst time in the Grade 2 San Gabriel Stakes at Santa Anita on Jan. 13.

Turning into the stretch of the race over 1 1/8 miles on turf, Leparoux had Juniper Pass sixth in the field of seven, racing behind horses. He never found adequate racing room, and they could finish only fourth, beaten 4 1/2 lengths by race winner Jeranimo.

“He could have been second with a clean run,” trainer Ray Bell said. “He didn’t have a chance.”

Juniper Pass was prepping in the San Gabriel for Saturday’s $150,000 San Marcos Stakes over 1 1/4 miles on turf, a distance that better suits him. A 6-year-old gelding owned by Robert and Betty Irvin, Juniper Pass will try to win the third stakes of his career in the Grade 2 San Marcos, a race that will lack a heavy favorite.

Juniper Pass won two Grade 2 races in spring 2011, the San Luis Obispo and San Juan Capistrano handicaps, but has lost his last eight starts. In those stakes wins, he was ridden by Rafael Bejarano, who will have the mount Saturday.

Leparoux rides the outsider Bridge of Gold for trainer Patrick Biancone, who was instrumental in helping the jockey launch his career.

Bridge of Gold has not started since finishing last of nine in the American St. Leger Stakes at Arlington Park last August in his U.S. debut. Losing Leparoux on Juniper Pass surprised Bell.

“I was content with keeping Leparoux,” Bell said.

Bejarano, the leading rider at Santa Anita, was aboard Juniper Pass for a five-furlong workout in 59 seconds on Santa Anita’s infield training track Sunday. Bell timed Juniper Pass in 58.80 seconds and was surprised by the final time.

“He’s never showed that kind of speed,” Bell said.

The San Marcos is expected to be led by Interaction, who was second in the Grade 2 Hollywood Turf Cup at Betfair Hollywood Park in December. Other expected starters are defending champion Slim Shadey, Dreamcatcher, Richard’s Kid, Smart Ellis, and Temple’s Door.

British imports debut

The horses Rafale and The Sixties were bought last fall in England with the hope their sprint form could translate well to California’s ultra-quick turf courses. Owner Jim Ford and trainer Mike Mitchell will learn Thursday whether the modest investment to acquire the pair has an immediate payoff.

Rafale, bought for approximately $17,600 at auction, and The Sixties, who cost approximately $22,500, start for $80,000 claiming prices in an optional claimer for 3-year-olds on the hillside turf course.

“I think they’re well placed,” Mitchell said. “The Sixties seems likes he’s more of a speed horse. Rafale seems like the better of the two.”

Rafale beat maidens in his second of five starts and has not raced since September. The Sixties has had one win in nine starts and was sixth in a stakes for 2-year-olds at Royal Ascot last June. Both horses were bought on behalf of Ford by former Southern California trainer Jamie Lloyd, who lives in England.

Mitchell has high hopes for Thursday’s race, which could produce starters for the 3-year-old turf stakes later at this meeting.

“They’re ready to go,” he said. “No excuses.”

The starter in the field of seven with the best form in stakes is Will True Up, a colt who was third in the Eddie Logan Stakes on the main track here Dec. 29 and fifth of seven in the California Derby at Golden Gate Fields on Jan. 12.

The Lumber Guy works

The Lumber Guy, second in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint here in November, worked a half-mile in 49.80 seconds Tuesday at Betfair Hollywood Park.

Trained by Neil Drysdale for Barry Schwartz, The Lumber Guy is a candidate for the $200,000 San Carlos Stakes over seven furlongs on Feb. 23. The Lumber Guy was held out of the Palos Verdes Stakes last month because of a quarter crack.