San Juan Capistrano Handicap
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 II event currently offers a purse of $150,000. Run during the second half of April as the traditional closing-day feature at Santa Anita Park, at about 1 3/4 miles it is the longest grass race in America. Since 1965 it has been an invitational handicap.
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. 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 II 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 11, 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. Fittingly, without ever using the whip as he always did, Longden guided George Royal from fifteen lengths back in last place to a thrilling photo-finish win.
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