Jockey Joel Rosario guides Bourbon Bay past Harreds Creek and jockey Mike… (Benoit Photo )
The longest graded stakes race in North America ended Sunday at Santa Anita with a furious two-horse charge down the stretch that was so close at the finish line it took six minutes to decide whose nose crossed the line first.
Bourbon Bay and jockey Joel Rosario were determined the winners of the 13/4-mile $150,000 San Juan Capistrano Handicap by a nose over Eagle Poise and jockey Alex Solis.
"That's a heart attack horse," a Bourbon Bay supporter quipped in the winner's circle after his No. 2 was posted on the tote board in the first-place position.
The 6-year-old gelding won the San Luis Rey Stakes by a head going 11/2 miles last month on the same turf course, and trainer Neil Drysdale complained that Rosario had Bourbon Bay too far back. This time, Bourbon Bay was in last place for much of the race and trailed by a larger margin.
"I was probably too far back, but I was never worried about it," Rosario said. "He's a great horse and can handle this distance well."
It was the fourth time Drysdale has won the San Juan Capistrano.
The drama and excitement made for a fitting ending on the final day of a productive 72-day winter-spring meeting. On-track handle and attendance were up 1% over 2011, with more than 580,000 fans watching races at the Arcadia track.
Rosario continued to reign supreme among the jockeys, winning his second consecutive Santa Anita title with 89 victories. Second place was Rafael Bejarano with 72 wins.
Two rising young riders were Joe Talamo, 22, and Eswan Flores, 19. Talamo started the meeting one for 55 and ended with flourish, finishing third with 57 victories.
Flores, 19, who graduated from high school two months ago, established himself as the top apprentice on the West Coast, finishing fourth in the jockey standings with 54 wins.
"Everything is coming together," Flores said. "I've been working hard and listening to others."
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert won his record 10th training title with 46 wins.
There were positive signs in the safety performance of Santa Anita's clay-and-sand surface. The track reported eight racing fatalities, compared with 18 for last year's meeting.
Trainer Barry Abrams, who sharply criticized the track's surface last November after the autumn meeting, said, "It's definitely better. It's much better."
Hollywood Park's spring meeting begins Thursday.