Sunday, April 19, 2009

Historic San Juan Capistrano Handicap Highlights Santa Anita's Closing Day Card

A view up the hill of Santa Anita's El Camino Real Turf Course.

In 1956, L.A. Times columnist Ned Cronin wrote of Santa Anita's San Juan Capistrano Handicap: “The first part of Arcadia’s answer to the Overland Express is a downhill haul that gets every horse in the race to rolling whether he wants to or not.” 1

One of the jewels of the Santa Anita Winter-Spring meet, the turf marathon begins at the top of the hill on the historic El Camino Real course, making a slight right-hand turn, followed by a left-hand turn before crossing the main track and continuing on the turf oval. At 1-3/4 miles, it is the longest Thoroughbred grass race in America. Today marks the 70th running.

The San Juan Capistrano has been won by the likes of Seabiscuit, Noor, George Royal, Niarkos, Cougar II, and John Henry. The great trainer Charlie Whittingham won a record five consecutive runnings from 1983-1987 with Erins Isle, Load The Cannons, Prince True, Dahar and Rosedale.

A field of six are entered for today's San Juan Capistrano, including last year's winner, Big Booster and stablemate Church Service for trainer Mike Mitchell, who is seeking his third consecutive win in the historic race.

The race is named for the community of San Juan Capistrano in Orange County, which took its name from the mission established in 1775 to commemorate St. John Capistran. The mission is famous for its Miracle of the Swallows. Flocks of migratory cliff swallows return each year on March 19, St. Joseph's Day, to nest in the eaves and archways of the old mission church. According to legend, the swallows have been visiting each Spring for centuries.
1  Los Angeles Times, Mar. 1, 1956, B3

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