North America’s Eclipse Award winning Apprentice Jockey in 2019, Japanese native Kazushi Kimura, won his first-ever Santa Anita race in style on Sunday, as he drove the John Sadler-trained Kirstenbosch (Midnight Lute – Llanduno by Belong to Me) to a desperate nose victory over favored Ganadora and Hall of Fame legend John Velazquez in the Grade III, $200,000 La Canada Stakes. Owned and bred by Keith Abrahams, Kirstenbosch got a mile and one sixteenth over a main track listed as good in 1:44.19.

Attentive to the pace from her rail post, Kirstenbosch was about 2 ½ lengths off dueling leaders Ganadora and Angel Nadeshiko leaving the quarter pole. Three-deep through the lane, Kirstenbosch appeared to draw even with Ganadora inside the sixteenth pole, but victory was very much in-doubt as Kimura stayed busy with a powerful hand ride in a thrilling finish.

“It feels so amazing, my first win here and in a Grade III, it’s amazing,” said Kimura, 23, who was also Woodbine’s leading rider this past season. “She’s always a bit lazy, she always needs like a little bit of pushing. At the half mile last time I rode her in the La Brea (Grade I, on Dec. 26), it was a seven furlong race and I was just pushing her to the wire. Today, I was more confident to say she would show up better than last time (when she finished third).

“John has given me opportunities since opening day. I’m really happy to win for him and I really appreciate it.”

Second in the ungraded Zia Park Oaks two starts back on Nov. 22, Kirstenbosch was off at 3-1 in a field of six older fillies and mares and paid $8.60, $3.80 and $2.60.

“He just rode her beautifully, he tried hard until the end,” said Juan Leyva, assistant to Sadler, who watched the race today from London. “He is a really nice kid. I’d like to see him really get going because he is so polite and he’s a good rider too…Hopefully, this will open up some eyes and he can get a lot more opportunities.

“When she started running, I thought she was going to win by at least half a length, but then it looked like when she got to Ganadora, she kind of just hung with her and this filly just tends to do that. She does just enough to win, she’s never been one to just pull away, so that’s the only thing I was afraid of…But she got the job done so that’s the main thing. I’m really happy for Keith because they have been long-time clients of John and they are just good people.”

In notching her first stakes win, Kirstenbosch improved her overall race record to 10-3-3-1. With the winner’s share of $120,000, she increased her earnings to $334,480.

For her part, the Bob Baffert-trained Ganadora did everything but win, as she was pressed early and late and just missed while finishing 2 ¾ lengths in front of Smoothlikebuttah. Favored at 8-5, Ganadora paid $3.00 and $2.40.

Ridden by Tiago Pereira for Steve Knapp, Smoothlikebuttah rallied from last to pass a tiring Angel Nadeshiko by a half length and paid $3.00 to show while off at 10-1.

Dating back to opening day, Dec. 26, Kimura had been winless with his first 16 mounts through nine racing days. He is represented at Santa Anita by agent Brandon O’Bryan.

Fractions on the race were 23.12, 47.18, 1:11.15 and 1:37.62.

Ed. Note: The La Canada stakes also gave a Manitoba-bred mare, Escape Clause, her first stakes victory at Santa Anita four years ago, making it a breakthrough race for invaders from the north. The event, first run in 1975, has nothing to do with Canada, however; it was named after a 1843 Mexican land grant known as Rancho La Cañada in the San Rafael Hills and Crescenta Valley of Southern California, a name meaning “ranch of the canyon.” ~ with files from Ivan Bigg