ARCADIA, Calif. (March 20, 2010) – Rapidly ascending Bourbon Bay strengthened his position as the West Coast’s preeminent marathoner Saturday when the 4-year-old gelding simply ran away with Santa Anita’s 59th running of the Grade II, $150,000 San Luis Rey Handicap at 1 ½ miles on turf.

Rafael Bejarano coaxed the son of Sligo Bay to the lead nearing the far turn and the field of 10 dissolved into a one-horse recital as Bourbon Bay crossed the wire 2 ½ lengths ahead of 50-1 shot Romp while running the distance in 2:24.08.

It was only the fourth career victory in 12 starts for the bay gelding purchased with marathon distances in mind, yet it was his third straight dominating performance at 1 ½ miles on turf. He had won last month’s Grade II San Luis Obispo Handicap by 4 ¼ lengths and an allowance event at the distance by 3 ½ lengths at Santa Anita in January.

His triumph on Saturday made Bourbon Bay only the eighth marathoner in Santa Anita history to capture back-to-back runnings of the San Luis Obispo and San Luis Rey. And, provided he runs in the historic San Juan Capistrano Handicap at 1 ¾ miles on April 18, he could become the only stayer other than Astray in 1974 and turf champion Kotashaan in 1993 to sweep the three Grade II stakes.

“I think that’s within his scope, the way he ran today,” said Neil Drysdale, his Hall of Fame trainer, in consideration of the San Juan’s added quarter-mile on the Santa Anita meet’s closing day.

Sent off as the odds-on favorite in the San Luis Rey, Bourbon Bay paid $3.80, $3.20 and $2.60 in providing Drysdale with his fourth victory in the event. Romp, who nodded Sudden War by a head for the place with Chantal Sutherland aboard, paid $20.40 and $10.40. Sudden War, ridden by Alex Solis, returned $5.20 to show.

Drysdale endorsed Bejarano’s decision to send Bourbon Bay to the front as early as he did after loping along in second through some rapid fractions for the distance. They included a half in 46.89 and a mile in 1:36.30. “I think he had to,” Drysdale noted, “because otherwise they were going to come at him. He had no option.”

“We were going a little faster than last time (San Luis Obispo),” said Bejarano, “but I still had a lot of horse at the end. He made a move at the three-eighths and passed everybody. This horse is getting better every time he runs.”

Purchased by Drysdale on behalf of David and Jill Heerensperger as a 3-year-old following three unremarkable starts, Bourbon Bay took a while to settle into his projected role. “We purchased him with the idea that he’d be a mile-and-a-half horse,” Drysdale said. “So he’s lived up to that.”

The three straight dominant victories at the marathon distance followed six straight setbacks in shorter races. The $90,000 winner’s share of the San Luis Rey purse elevated Bourbon Bay’s earnings to $299,424 from a 4-2-2 showing in 12 career starts.

In gaining her first stakes victory in Saturday’s running of the $100,000 Irish O’Brien Stakes for California-bred fillies and mares at 6 ½ furlongs on turf, 4-year-old Unzip Me earned her cabbage.

Bumped at the start, she broke slowly, but soon found herself dueling for the lead with 7-5 favorite A Jealous Woman. Unzip Me, with Bejarano aloft, yielded the lead for an instant in midstretch, but seemed to find another gear. She put away the favorite and then had just enough left to turn back fast-charging longshot U R All That I Am by a head at the wire.

“She’s definitely going to lie down after that one,” commented Marty Jones, who trains Unzip Me for the partnership of John Harris, Per Antonsen and Don Valpredo.

U R All That I Am, the longest shot at 19-1 in the field of five, closed furiously on the extreme outside to outfinish third-place A Jealous Woman by 1 ¼ lengths. The winning time was 1:11.91, just a shade off the stakes record of 1:11.84 set by La Feminn in 2001.

Sent off as the event’s third choice, Unzip Me paid $7.20, $4.60 and $3. The runner-up, ridden by Martin Garcia, returned $10.40 and $3.40. The show price on A Jealous Woman, with Joe Talamo aboard, was $2.40.

Jones noted that Talamo had ridden his filly before. “I thnk he knows how good she is,” said the winning trainer, “and I think he probably knew she was the filly to beat and never gave her a breather all the way. She was pretty tired, but it’s nice to see her be so game after not getting things her own way.”

Said Bejarano, “There were only five horses in the race, so I knew I would be on the lead. I knew the 3 (A Jealous Woman) was going to give me a lot of pressure, so I just tried to keep her relaxed and not panic with my horse. I saved a lot of horse for the end. When I came to the last furlong, I let her go, and she gave me a big run. She’s a nice horse.”

The victory was the third in a row, all sprints on grass, for the daughter of City Zip who was bred by owners Harris and Valpredo. The winning purse of $60,000 increased her career earnings to $218,700 from an overall record of 5-2-1 in 10 races.

Sunday’s nine-race program is headed by the Grade II, $150,000 Santa Ana Handicap with Tuscan Evening the 8-5 morning line favorite among eight fillies and mares going 1 1/8 miles on turf. First post is at 12:30 p.m.