Favored Champ Pegasus took full advantage of a ground-saving ride from leading jockey Joel Rosario to win the $200,000 Del Mar Handicap (gr. IIT) Aug. 29 (VIDEO).
The victory in the 1 3/8-mile event earned the fast-developing 4-year-old son of Fusaichi Pegasus a slot in the $3 million Emirates Airline Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) at Churchill Downs Nov. 6. This was the first stakes win for Champ Pegasus.
The 3-2 choice in the field of nine rallied impressively at the rail to win by 1 1/4 lengths over 18-1 shot Buenos Dias, who pipped 15-1 Worth Repeating by a nose for the place spot. Trainer Richard Mandella picked up his first win in the Del Mar Handicap with Champ Pegasus. Mandella also saddled Worth Repeating.
The final time was 2:11.93 over firm going, slightly off the course mark of 2:11.14 established by Spring House in winning the 2008 renewal of the Del Mar Handicap.
Champ Pegasus, who broke his maiden just three starts ago at Santa Anita, was coming off a runner-up finish by one length to Marlang in the Sunset Handicap (gr. IIIT) on the closing day of the Hollywood Park spring/summer stand July 18.
Diamond A Racing and Arturo Vargas own and bred Champ Pegasus, who is nominated for the Breeders' Cup.
"When you're desperate, you have to work fast," Mandella told TVG afterward, referring to Champ Pegasus' campaign. The Hall of Fame conditioner said he is looking at a Breeders' Cup date favorably.
"I was afraid to even think about it going in, but when you've won one of these long races, you've got to keep thinking," he said. "He keeps doing what we ask of him, so we'll keep asking for more."
Champ Pegasus was reserved off the early pace in sixth as Red Eye Express overtook Worth Repeating shortly after the break and quickly opened up a commanding lead. Red Eye Express led by as many as 13 lengths and lasted on the front end into the stretch before retreating, allowing Worth Repeating, ridden by Martin Pedroza to take the lead. Champ Pegasus was advancing quickly along the rail, however, and when room opened up past the eighth pole, Champ Pegasus burst through to get the lead.
Fractions were quick for the distance at :46.64 for four furlongs and 1:34.20 for the mile.
Buenos Dias, charging four wide through the stretch for Brice Blanc, looked like a serious threat but Champ Pegasus was too much to catch under slight urging from Rosario.
"My horse was nice and relaxed, running easy," said Rosario, who replaced the injured Joe Talamo aboard Champ Pegasus and picked up his sixth stakes win of the meet. "He's an easy horse to ride and when we came for home I was looking for a place to go -- outside, inside. A spot opened inside for me and I went for it. Easy enough. It all worked out well."
The Irish-bred Buenos Dias, ignored by the bettors after a disappointing fifth in the Sunset, got the nod over Worth Repeating for second.
"He came back to himself today," Blanc said of the runner-up. "He ran much better."
Falcon Rock finished fourth, followed by Soul Candy, Dynamic Range, Red Eye Express, and Megastar. Sporting Art was eased but walked off.
Champ Pegasus now has captured three of his past four starts after failing to find the winner's circle in the first three starts of his career against maidens. His record stands at 3-2-1 in seven races with earnings of $208,520. The victory was worth $120,000.
"You have to expect them to learn and get better at this," Mandella said. "I'm pretty happy about the way he's come around. The other little horse (Worth Repeating) ran well, too. I've been wanting to try him long and he gave it a good try. I still think I was second."
Mandella said he would likely try Champ Pegasus in the Clement L. Hirsch Turf Championship (gr. IT) next during the Oak Tree meet, probably at Hollywood Park Oct. 3. The trainer then would decide about the Breeders' Cup Turf, he said.
The winning bay colt, bred in Kentucky, is out of the Salt Lake mare Salt Champ.
Champ Pegasus carried 116 pounds to victory and paid $5, $3.40, and $2.80, topping an $83.20 exacta. Buenos Dias, trained by Ron McAnally for owner Charles Cella, returned $13.20 and $7.40. Worth Repeating was $6.40 to show in his stakes debut.
Unusual Suspect, unplaced in the Pacific Classic Presented by TVG (gr. I) a day earlier, was scratched.