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Bourbon Bay Back at Favorite Venue in San Marcos

A return to Santa Anita could prove the tonic for multiple graded stakes winner Bourbon Bay when defending his championship against German-bred upstart Sanagas in Saturday’s 60th running of the Grade II, $150,000 San Marcos Handicap at 1 ¼ miles on turf.


In his last start of 2011, Hall of Fame trainer Neil Drysdale’s 6-year-old gelding fell 3 ¼ lengths short when Sanagas was shipped from the East by trainer H. Graham Motion to dominate the Grade I Hollywood Turf Cup at 1 ½ miles on Nov. 19.


But that was Hollywood Park, and the runner-up finish ran Bourbon Bay’s report card to zero-for-six over the grass in Inglewood. Santa Anita’s turf course has been quite another matter for David and Jill Heerensperger’s son of Sligo Bay. Bourbon Bay has won five-of-six starts over the course in Arcadia, four of them Grade II events including the 2011 San Marcos by 1 ¾ lengths over Champ Pegasus. His only Santa Anita setback, in fact, was by a scant nose to Champ Pegasus in the Grade II San Luis Obispo last year.


Even assuming Bourbon Bay improves over his last start – “He’s doing really well,” says Drysdale – the San Marcos outcome may depend on the depth of Sanagas’ talent in a field of eight that includes such other notables as millionaire The Usual Q.T. and Norvsky, winner of last month’s Grade II San Gabriel Stakes over the course.


Following his smashing victory in the Hollywood Turf Cup, which was his first Grade I win, Sanagas was purchased by BC 3 Thoroughbreds and David Bernsen with the long range aim of competing in Australia’s renowned Melbourne Cup in November.


Meantime, the 6-year-old gelding is progressing superbly under the care of new trainer Peter Miller. “He’s doing super,” reported Miller, “with all those black-letter works, and he’s doing it easily. In fact, I’m trying to slow him down, which isn’t easy with that super-duper long stride of his.”


Sired by Lomitas out of the German mare, Scotia, who is by Irish stallion Marju, Sanagas did not begin his racing career in Germany until April of his 4-year-old season. He won 4 of 5 starts at marathon distances – three of the races on grass; two over synthetics. But none of those competitions in the country of his birth were Group or graded events.


Shipped to the United States in the spring of last year, Sanagas won a minor stakes race at Saratoga over 1 5/8 miles on turf and the Grade III Syracuse Stakes at the same distance over Keeneland’s synthetic surface in four starts. He then was sent West from Motion’s Maryland-base for the Hollywood Turf Cup.


Despite relatively modest accomplishments that included a single Grade III victory and career earnings of $132,282 in nine starts at the age of 5, Sanagas was sent off as the 8-5 favorite over 2-1 Bourbon Bay in the Hollywood Turf Cup. Eastern-based jockey Rajiv Maragh was in the saddle.


The stalking Sanagas swept past pacesetting Miss Match and Norvsky heading into the final turn and opened up an insurmountable advantage in the lane. He cruised home under a vigorous hand ride. “The winner cut on the turn, and I just couldn’t keep pace,” said Garrett Gomez, who rode Bourbon Bay. “I just couldn’t quicken with the winner.”


The winning purse of $150,000 elevated the earnings of Sanagas to $282,282 from a 7-1-0 log in 10 races. Maragh, aboard in all five of the gelding’s U.S. starts, will be replaced by Joel Rosario on Saturday. Sanagas will carry 123 pounds as will Norvsky. The others were weighted at 118 pounds.


With Gomez on the mend from a broken heel, Rafael Bejarano will ride Bourbon Bay as he did in all of the bay gelding’s stakes victories at Santa Anita. A winner of but one of his eight starts since last year’s San Marcos, Bourbon Bay returns with earnings of $779,536 from a 7-5-4 record in 23 career starts.


The Usual Q. T., who returned from nearly eight months on the shelf to finish third behind Norvsky in the Jan. 12 San Gabriel, will be attempting 1 ¼ miles on turf for only the second time in his productive career. His previous try resulted in victory over Battle of Hastings and Acclamation in the Grade I Hollywood Derby in 2009, the fifth win during a six-race victory streak for the California-bred son of Unusual Heat.


“His schedule was a bit advanced to make the San Gabriel,” noted trainer James Cassidy. “We’ve had more time to prepare for this race. Not only that, I think the mile-and-a-quarter will be easier on him. . .and he’s doing well.”


Regular rider Victor Espinoza will be atop the 6-year-old gelding owned by Don Van Kempen, Michael Nentwig, George Saadeh and Jeffrey Byer. Bred by Carlee Van Kempen, The Usual Q. T. has earned $1,531,240 from a record of 8-6-5 in 23 career starts. He has not won, however, since taking the Grade I Eddie Read Stakes at Del Mar on July 24, 2010. The Usual Q. T. has subsequently run second twice and third five times in eight starts.


After finishing fifth behind Sanagas and Bourbon Bay in the Hollywood Turf Cup, Norvsky rallied strongly to capture the San Gabriel by 1 ½ lengths over odds-on favorite Jeranimo with The Usual Q. T. another 2 ¾ lengths back. A stablemate of 2011’s Eclipse Award-winning older male Acclamation, who is preparing for a comeback, Norvsky recorded his first graded stakes win in the San Gabriel. Trained by Don Warren for breeders E. W. and Judy Johnston along with Robert Riggio, the gelded 6-year-old son of Vronsky has posted a 6-7-3 record in 18 career races while winning $487,844. He will be ridden by Joe Talamo.


The complete field for the San Marcos Stakes, with jockeys and weights in post position order: Utopian, Mike Smith, 118; Norvsky, Joseph Talamo, 123; Worth Repeating, Martin Pedroza, 118; Sanagas, Joel Rosario, 123; Ashtar, Kevin Krigger, 118; The Usual Q. T., Victor Espinoza, 118; Slim Shadey, David Flores, 118, and Bourbon Bay, Rafael Bejarano, 118.



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