ARCADIA, CA – After missing several months due to an injury suffered last July, Hall of Fame jockey Victor Espinoza finally returned to the winner’s circle aboard Hronis Racing’s St. Joe Bay in Saturday’s San Carlos Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park.
Dismissed at 15/1 odds as he bobbled out of post 4, St. Joe Bay outhustled the 6/5 favorite Ax Man for the lead and quickly separated himself before posting opening fractions of :22.45 and :45.22. Espinoza gave the cue in midstretch and St. Joe Bay responded sharply. Though he slightly drifted in late, the John Sadler trainee was far gone, crossing with a 3-length advantage in a final time of 1:24.06 for the 7-furlong sprint over the fast main track.
“It feels great to be back in the winner’s circle,” Espinoza said. “It’s very encouraging to go forward in my career after what happened. This has put me on a different level, mentally as well, after what happened. I thought I would never be back to ride. … This horse was the first horse I worked since my accident. He’s a different horse since then. He’s changed since that work. The next time I worked him, he was so positive. He built up with more weight and he was so happy. The combination changed him for the good. I never thought he would win that easy. This is fun and exciting.”
Dr. Dorr was slower than usual early but was able to save ground through the far turn before swinging out four-wide for the stretch run to take second by 1 1/4 lengths. Kanthaka finished an even third over Solid Wager, with Ax Man weakening back to fifth. Zatter and Touching Rainbows completed the order of finish.
St. Joe Bay’s win was his third in a graded stakes event, though his first in nearly 26 months, and improved his overall record to 36-7-7-0. The 7-year-old gelded son of Saint Anddan, who Sadler claimed for $62,500 last May, has now earned $734,515 in his career.
“The horse was second, got beat a head in this race last year,” Sadler said. “It’s a good distance for him, he got out, got rolling, and the rest is history. We’re really happy for Victor who’s on his comeback. He’s worked hard and it’s been tough with the calendar. He was ready to go a month ago and he had to stop, so it’s good for him to get back to the winner’s circle.”
St. Joe Bay returned $33.60 to win, $14.20 to place, and $7.40 to show. Dr. Dorr brought back $8.60 to place and $5.60 to show, while Kanthaka paid $3.60 to show.