03/20/2011 5:59PM

Santa Anita: Switch from turf to mud no problem for Juniper Pass in San Luis Rey

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Benoit & Associates
Juniper Pass, under Rafael Bejarano, runs down pacesetter Dahoud to win the off-the-turf San Luis Rey.

ARCADIA, Calif.- Bound for the winner’s circle after Juniper Pass’s hard-fought victory in Sunday’s $150,000 San Luis Rey Stakes, owner Robert Irvin was understandably full of enthusiasm.

“I think I’m going to hug Rafael,” he said of winning jockey Rafael Bejarano.

Reminded that Bejarano was not really embraceable after guiding Juniper Pass to a half-length win on a wet-fast track on a rainy day in the San Luis Rey Stakes, Irvin settled for a handshake with the jockey and the knowledge that Juniper Pass is a proven stayer.

The Grade 3 San Luis Rey Stakes was scheduled for turf, and transferred to the main track because of rain on Sunday, but the switch did the 4-year-old colt no harm. Juniper Pass stalked pacesetter Dahoud to early stretch and won the race over 1 1/2 miles by a half-length.

Imponente Purse finished third, followed by 8-5 favorite Haimish Hy, Romp, and Falcon Rock.

The San Luis Rey Stakes was Juniper Pass’s first stakes win, and the third victory of his 11-race career. He beat maidens over 1 3/16 miles on turf at Hollywood Park last June and won an optional claimer over 1 1/4 miles on turf there last November. On Thanksgiving weekend last year, he was third, beaten a neck, in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby.

 “He’s really just coming into his own,” said winning trainer Ray Bell.

The San Luis Rey Stakes was Juniper Pass’s third start of the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting, preceded by fifth-place finishes in an optional claimer in January and the Grade 2 San Luis Obispo Stakes last month.

“The other day, in the San Luis Obispo, he had to wait,” Bell said. “He doesn’t have great speed or acceleration. You have to get after him. He’s a steady horse.”

In the six-runner San Luis Rey, Juniper Pass was second for the first mile, tracking Dahoud, the 9-5 second choice, through fractions of 25.34 and 51.25 seconds. Dahoud led by a length with a quarter-mile remaining, but could not hold off Juniper Pass.

“I was glad Rafael was able to position him where he did,” Bell said. “He didn’t have to come from too far out of it. In the end, he was in a perfect position.”

Juniper Pass, by Lemon Drop Kid, was timed in 2:32.64. Irvin co-owns the colt with his wife Betty. Juniper Pass has earned $194,380.

Bell said the $150,000 San Juan Capistrano Handicap over about 1  3/4 miles on turf on April 17 will be Juniper Pass’s next start.