San Juan Capistrano Handicap
|Grade III race|
|Location||Santa Anita Park|
Arcadia, California, United States
|Race type||Thoroughbred - Flat racing|
|Distance||About 1 3⁄4 miles (actual distance 1 mile 1,232 yards (2.736 km))|
|Track||downhill chute, right and left-handed|
|Qualification||Four-years-old & up|
The San Juan Capistrano Invitational Handicap is an American invitational handicap Thoroughbred horse race run annually on turf at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California. It is North America's longest graded stakes race. Open to horses age four and older, the Grade III event currently offers a purse of $100,000. Run during the second half of April as the traditional closing-day feature at Santa Anita Park, usually at about 1 3⁄4 miles (about 2.74 km) it is one of the longest grass race in America. Since 1965 it has been an invitational handicap.
It has now downgraded from a Grade II to a Grade III race and run in late June due to the reshuffling of events inherited from the closure of Hollywood Park Racetrack in 2014.
Inaugurated in 1935, for 1940 only it was limited to three-year-olds and for three-year-olds and older in all other years prior to 1968. From its inception through 1953, the race was contested on dirt, then in 1954 it was converted to a turf event. Over the years, it has been run at various distances:
- 1 1⁄8 miles : 1935-1939
- 1 1⁄16 miles : 1940
- 1 1⁄2 miles : 1939, 1941, 1945, 1946, 1949, 1954
- 1 3⁄4 miles : 1950-1953, 1955–2015, since 2017
- 1 7⁄8 miles : 2016
The San Juan Capistrano is run around four turns, and begins at the top of Santa Anita's downhill chute, normally used for 6 1/2 furlong sprint races. From the start point, horses begin their descent down the hill. Within the first two furlongs of the race, horses turn right - one of only two locations in North American horse racing that a right turn is used (the other is at Kentucky Downs). After a brief straight run, there is a gentle turn to the left until the horses cross the dirt course and enter the main turf oval. Horses then run one full lap of the turf course to complete the 1 mile 1,232 yards (2.736 km) distance. In 2016 the Santa Anita's downhill chute was under repair and the race was run on the flat turf oval, at 1.875 miles (3.018 km).
In 1964, the San Juan Capistrano Invitational Handicap was run in two divisions.
With the increasing emphasis on speed horses bred to compete in the Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup Classic distance of 1 1⁄4 miles on dirt, during the last two decades longer races run on grass or dirt in North America have been in decline. Once a Grade I event, the about 1 3⁄4 miles San Juan Capistrano Invitational Handicap now holds a Grade III classification. Since 2007, the winner of the San Juan Capistrano has received ballot free entry into Australia's greatest horse race and the staying championship of the world, the Melbourne Cup. As of 2008, no San Juan Capistrano winner has made the trip to Flemington for the Melbourne Cup.
At age eight, Niarkos (1968) and Mashkour (1991) are the oldest horses to win the event.
The March 12, 1966, edition of the San Juan Capistrano Invitational Handicap was seen by 60,792 fans, the largest crowd of the season, who turned out to say farewell to retiring U.S. Racing Hall of Fame jockey Johnny Longden. Without ever using the whip as he always did, Longden guided George Royal from fifteen lengths back in last place to a photo-finish win.
- 2:42.96 - Bienamado (2001)
- 2 - Mioland (1940, 1941)
- 2 - Intent (1952, 1953)
- 2 - George Royal (1965, 1966)
- 2 - Niarkos (1967, 1968)
- 2 - T. H. Approval (2005, 2006)
- 2 - Bourbon Bay (2010, 2012)
Most wins by a jockey:
Most wins by a trainer:
- 14 - Charles Whittingham (1957, 1959, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1978, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1989)
Most wins by an owner:
- 4 - Charles S. Howard (1937, 1940, 1941, 1950)
Other North American Marathon races
- Balan, Jeremy (10 April 2016). "'Casablanca' Dominant in San Juan Capistrano". Bloodhorse.com. Retrieved 10 April 2016.