Moving a tad early as the 4-5 favorite in Saturday’s $200,690 San Marcos (G2), Itsinthepost had to pull out all of his reserves of energy, and will, to stave off upset-minded 14-1 shot Hayabusa One at Santa Anita. Well and truly did trainer Jeff Mullins hail his classy turf performer as a “warrior” in the aftermath.
The fast early pace, courtesy of occasional sprinter Mr. Roary, turned the 1 1/4-mile event into a searing test. Itsinthepost was perched a few lengths back in fourth through fractions of :23.22 and :45.96, but improved to just a half-length back by the six-furlong mark in 1:09.46. Regular rider Tyler Baze sought to deliver the coup de grace passing the mile in 1:33.93, and Itsinthepost responded with his typical gusto.
But that left the 124-pound highweight in front for a full quarter-mile – a target for anyone with the horse to catch him. Victor Espinoza had that horse in Hayabusa One, who played his hand later and collared the favorite in deep stretch. Just when Hayabusa One appeared ready to gain the upper hand, Itsinthepost fought on, and it was a tale of heads up, heads down as the French-breds battled to the wire.
Itsinthepost’s gallantry, and exquisite timing, got his nose down at the right instant in 1:58.24. Hayabusa One’s stride wasn’t as perfectly in sync with the finish line, and he came up a nose shy. According to the chart, Espinoza lost the whip at the sixteenth pole. Would it have mattered, or was Itsinthepost too gritty in any case?
Editore, who briefly loomed in midstretch, couldn’t go on with the top two and took home the bronze another 2 1/2 lengths astern. Fourth-placer Free Rose attended Mr. Roary early and lasted longer, checking in 3 1/4 lengths clear of the pacesetter. The past two San Marcos winners were the last across the wire. Flamboyant, the 2016 winner and third to Isotherm in 2017, trailed most of the way and passed only the flagging Isotherm late. Prince of Arabia was scratched.
Itsinthepost, runner-up in last year’s edition, was earning his fifth career stakes victory. His resume now reads 32-8-7-5, $975,707, reflecting scores in the 2017 San Luis Rey (G2), Elkhorn (G2), and John Henry Turf Championship (G2), and the January 6 San Gabriel (G2) in his latest.
Quotes from Santa Anita
Jed Cohen of Red Baron’s Barn: “He’s a really good horse. Even when he doesn’t win, he’s right there every time. You don’t get many horses this consistent, period.”
On whether he knew Itsinthepost won the photo: “I didn’t, but everybody else did.”
Trainer Jeff Mullins on the photo: “I wasn’t sure. He ran good. It was probably a little quick back for him, so we’ll give him a little time now (ahead of his next target). He gives his best every time. He’s a warrior. Tyler (Baze) could have waited just a little longer before he went, but it worked out. He knows him. He’s ridden him more than I have.”
Winning rider Tyler Baze: “I knew they were going fast in front of me but I wasn’t worried about any of those horses. My horse doesn’t have a tremendous turn of foot. He did that one race (in the John Henry Turf Championship) but maybe that’s because I was bottled up so long in that race.
“I’ve always done the same thing. I’ve always had to outkick the horses that have that turn of foot. I make them chase me because then they’re having to work that much harder if I open on them a little bit.
“This horse shows up every single time. The guys at the barn have done an unbelievable job with him. Jeffrey Jr. (Mullins’ son) has been working with him hard. Rudy, his groom has done a great job and Alejandro Molina, the gallop boy, we all love this horse so much. He’s a big part of our barn. He’s a really special horse. He’s going to get a bag full of apples in the morning that’s for sure.
“I knew I got the bob but you can never totally tell. I knew Victor (Espinoza) was upset when we hit the wire. It was just a matter of where exactly the picture was taken.”
Hall of Famer Victor Espinoza on near-misser Hayabusa One: “My horse ran a big race and he’s coming along pretty nicely. He’s better than before, when I rode him last February. It was just one of those things today. We were either going to win or lose today, and it was a flip of the coin. It was a tiny bobble and the main thing is that he ran great.”