After struggling at times during his previous three seasons, veteran turf runner Finnegans Wake has found a home in California, coming from off the pace once again to capture the $200,000 San Gabriel Stakes Jan. 3 at Santa Anita Park.
The one-length score in the 1-1/8-mile San Gabriel was Finnegan Wake's second in a row in Southern California for trainer Peter Miller following the Hollywood Turf Cup at 12 furlongs Nov. 27 at Del Mar. He was also second in the John Henry Turf Championship at Santa Anita in September before being overmatched in the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf and finishing 10th.
"He's a real classy horse and he like California," said Miller, who added that he had backed off his training of the 6-year-old son of Powerscourt to help him prepare for the cutback in distance in the San Gabriel.
Seventh in upper stretch, 8-1 outsider Finnegans Wake fired down the outside under Victor Espinoza to get the lead in deep stretch and deny another closer, Patrioticandproud, for the victory. The final time was 1:48.38 over firm going.
"I thought today was going to be too short for him, but obviously it wasn't," said Espinoza, who was also aboard Finnegans Wake in the Turf Cup. "He's getting good. I thought they would go slower up front but there was still good pace. I wanted to be closer to the front but not too close.
"He was a little confused because of where we broke from so I think he sat back further than usual because of that. He went nice and comfortably which worked out well but I had to encourage him a bit to get into the race. I had to ask him early because he's big and he doesn't have a ton of speed. He took a little while, but it worked out well."
Patrioticandproud, ridden by Drayden Van Dyke at odds of 13-1, took second by three-quarters of a length over 26-1 Power Ped, with 17-10 favorite Tom's Tribute fourth in the field eight. Patrioticandproud was also second to Finnegans Wake in the Turf Cup last time.
Edge of Reality, pushed along by Skyring, looked to take a field lacking in pace all the way, but both faded in the stretch after stepping surprisingly good quarter-mile fractions of :24.60, :48.80, and 1:12.52. Skyring had the lead briefly at mid-stretch but was swallowed up by the closers in the drive for the wire while finishing fifth. Dynamic Sky, Big Bane Theory, and Edge of Reality completed the order.
Previously trained by Dale Romans for owners Donegal Racing and Rockingham Ranch, Finnegans Wake improved his career line to 5-3-3 in 26 starts and upped his bankroll to $945,375. Donegal's managing partner Jerry Crawford bred the bay horse in Kentucky out of the stakes-placed Silver Ghost mare Boat's Ghost.
Winner of the Arlington Handicap in July, Finnegans Wake was transferred to Miller following a fifth in the Arlington Million Aug. 16. He's quickly adapted to the firmer grass courses at Santa Anita and Del Mar.
"He's just such a neat horse," Miller said. "He's a stud but he's just the coolest guy to be around. He eats well and he's been training really well, so I felt like he would run his race. Whether he could get up going a mile and an eighth was the big question, but Victor gave him a super ride."
Miller said a race in Dubai during the Word Cup program might be next for Finnegans Wake, but he's also thinking about the Santa Anita Handicap on dirt.
"I've got to get with the owners, enjoy this for now, and maybe next week set up a game plan," Miller said.
Finnegans Wake paid $18, $7.20, and $5.20 across the board, topping a $176.80 exacta. Patrioticandproud, posting his third successive graded stakes placing for trainer Mark Casse, returned $11.20 and $5.20. Power Ped, in his graded stakes debut for Hall of Fame trainer Neil Drysdale, paid $7 to show.
Persuasive Paul scratched.