2010-2014: Jeranimo's Jackpot
A study of Santa Anita's history will show that many of the stakes contested each winter and spring have been part of the track's fabric since it first opened in 1934.
For example, the San Antonio began that season, as did the San Carlos. And of course, we cannot forget about the Santa Anita Derby or the Big 'Cap.
A fifth stakes you can add to that club is the San Gabriel.
Though it has not been contested every single year, the San Gabriel has nonetheless been by and large a constant presence for the majority of the track's history. Won by horses like 1954 Kentucky Derby champion Determine (1954), Corn Husker (1957), Cougar II (1971) and John Henry (1980), the San Gabriel is no stranger to racing legends. And there are also the horses who won it twice: Romarin (1995, 1996), Brave Act (1998, 2000), Irish Prize (both wins in 2001), and Proudinsky (2008, 2009). Those four equines are at a higher level of history, for they are the few to win the San Gabriel twice.
But one horse stands above them, for he is the sole owner of three runnings of the Grade II.
The historic run by Jeranimo began in 2010. With top jockey Rafael Bejarano in the saddle, the Michael Pender trainee made his first foray onto Santa Anita's turf course. He spent much of the nine furlongs racing several lengths behind the leader as a slow tempo unfolded, but he rallied around the far turn to make his bid for another graded stakes trophy. Racing on the inside, an opening between a rival and the rail opened up. Bejarano immediately guided Jeranimo through it, and in a matter of seconds, the Florida-bred pulled away from the field to take the San Gabriel with style. Not bad for a colt making his turf debut.
The San Gabriel was not contested in 2011, but Jeranimo was back to defend his title in 2012. Favored to repeat as champion, Jeranimo took the lead in the clubhouse turn. He had control down the backstretch and was met with a challenge by Cal-bred champion The Usual Q.T. in the far turn, but Jeranimo turned him away. He led for a few more moments, but his bid was thwarted by Norvsky, who put together an impressive stretch run to spring a minor upset. Still, Jeranimo ran well for second.
But the San Gabriel would beckon Jeranimo again. Teaming with Bejarano again in 2013, the bettors saw him as a contender. Among the top horses in the wagering, Jeranimo was assigned post seven in a seven horse field. After exiting the gate, Bejarano took Jeranimo from the extreme outside and steered him more towards the inside part of the grass as they trailed the field. That position did not change as the San Gabriel unfolded, but a quick pace brewed up front. By the time everyone rounded the turn for home, Jeranimo was on the extreme outside with no one in front and a shot to win. Not missing a beat, the bay horse found more speed as he blitzed past everyone in a huge finish to make him the fifth horse to win two San Gabriels.
But, as the old saying goes, the best was yet to come.
Entered in the 2014 renewal, Jeranimo had earned the respect of horseplayers. The top choice on the tote board, he sought a third win in the San Gabriel with Bejarano. The race began as a repeat of 2013: Jeranimo again trailed in last place as the field moved around the turf course. Turning for home, Jeranimo again had to run widest of all to get the victory.
But that did not intimidate him. He did it the year before, and he would do it again.
With another explosive stretch run, Jeranimo showed no one in the field was a match for him. He dominated his rivals to win in a record time of 1:46 flat, the fastest clocking ever for the San Gabriel. And he emerged as the first horse to win the longtime staple three times in a truly historic performance.
That turned out to be the final victory of Jeranimo's career, but what a significant win it was. Though it cannot be ruled out that someone will one day equal his total, or maybe even eclipse it, that will not diminish what Jeranimo achieved.
Jeranimo won several races in his career, but he is always going to be a legend of the San Gabriel Stakes.