ARCADIA, Calif. (April 10, 2009) – After traversing the seldom run marathon distance of 1 ½ miles on turf, it took a photo Friday to separate the first three finishers in Santa Anita’s $55,520 optional claiming feature with the nod going to favored Isipingo.

Winless the last two years but able to call on past graded stakes experience, the 6-year-old gelding nosed out second-choice Unusual Smoke with fastest-finishing Romp another head back in third.

Isipingo, with Alex Solis in the saddle, rallied from fourth in the field of six while covering the distance in 2:25.80.

The winner paid $6, $3.40 and $2.20. Unusual Smoke, ridden by Martin Garcia and seeking a third straight victory after being claimed by trainer A. C. Avila for $12,500, returned $4.20 and $2.60. Romp, with Rafael Bejarano aboard, paid $2.60 to show.

Isipingo settled into a stalking position just behind Unusual Smoke as Master Daniel, tracked by Victorian Prince, took the field through fast early fractions for the distance, 46.58 and 1:11.71.

Jockey Aaron Gryder sent Victorian Prince to the lead turning for home before surrendering it to Unusual Smoke, who was nailed by the winner in the final jump. Romp, who was six lengths behind the pack on the backside, just failed to catch the first two.

Trained by Craig Dollase for the partnership of Coleman, Dasaro and Thomson, Isipingo had been second in his previous two starts at 1 ¼ miles. He clearly relished the added distance. It was his third career start at 1 ½ miles on turf, and he had placed second to Spring House two years ago in the Grade III Carleton F. Burke Handicap at Oak Tree and chased Spring House in Santa Anita’s Grade II San Luis Obispo Handicap last year.

While ending his victory draught, Isipingo earned $31,200 which boosted his career earnings to $288,480 from a
4-4-4 record in 20 starts.

With three winners on Friday’s program, Bejarano all but clinched his second consecutive riding title at Santa Anita and his sixth in succession at Southern California’s major race meetings after last year becoming the third rider ever to sweep all five.

The three-bagger elevated Bejarano to a three win lead over Garrett Gomez, 89-86, with the latter scheduled to ride only two more races at the meet on Sunday before returning to Keeneland where he moved his tack earlier this month. With seven racing days remaining in the Santa Anita meet, third-place Joel Rosario trails Bejarano by 14 victories.

A pair of stakes, the $100,000 La Puente at one mile on turf and the $70,000 Santa Lucia Handicap for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles, head Saturday’s nine-race program that will be televised by HRTV. First post is at 12:30 p.m.