Champ Pegasus (outside) is a nose better than Bourbon Bay in the San Luis Obispo Stakes.<br><a target="blank" href="">Order This Photo</a>

Champ Pegasus (outside) is a nose better than Bourbon Bay in the San Luis Obispo Stakes.
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Champ Pegasus Nips 'Bourbon' in SLO Thriller

Richard Mandella trainee likely headed for Dubai after turning tables on rival.

Champ Pegasus  defeated 11-10 choice Bourbon Bay by a nose after a scintillating stretch battle in the $150,000 San Luis Obispo Stakes (gr. IIT) on the Santa Anita turf course Feb. 19 (VIDEO).

Trainer Richard Mandella said afterward that if Champ Pegasus is doing well after his exerting win, he would be pointed to the $5 million Dubai Sheema Classic (UAE-I) at 1 1/2 miles at Meydan Racecourse March 26. If Champ Pegasus makes the trip, the 2010 Emirates Airline Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) runner-up may get a rematch with Dangerous Midge, who is expected to run in the Sheema Classic as well.

On a course softened by rain, second choice Champ Pegasus, a homebred son of Fusaichi Pegasus --Salt Champ, by Salt Lake, went over $1 million in lifetime earnings for owners Diamond A Racing and Arturo Vargas.

Bourbon Bay defeated Champ Pegasus by 1 3/4 lengths in the 10-furlong San Marcos Stakes (gr. II) Jan. 17. In his first start since the Breeders' Cup, Champ Pegasus led by one length at the eighth pole that day but could not hold off Bourbon Bay, who registered his fourth grade II win on the Santa Anita lawn.

“My horse was trying very hard," Mandella said. "I was just hoping I would come out on the right end. I was confident on the softer going, but Bourbon Bay was five for five on the course. My horse definitely needed his last race. I didn’t have him as fit as I thought I did (in the San Marcos), and I had underestimated how good Bourbon Bay was, and he is very good.”

Ridden by Joel Rosario, Champ Pegasus dealt the marathon specialist Bourbon Bay his first loss over the Santa Anita turf while covering the 12 furlongs in 2:31.55 over "good" ground. After receiving about an inch of rain overnight, the race remained on the turf but the start was taken off the hillside and contested entirely on the main course instead. There were four scratches, reducing the field to nine.

Unbridle's Dream sped to the front and stretched his commanding lead to about 12 lengths while striding the first half-mile in :49.75, six furlongs in 1:14.26, and the mile in 1:38.73. Bourbon Bay led the stalkers for Rafael Bajarano as they cut into the advantage going into the final turn. The 5-year-old Sligo Bay gelding angled out a bit and took over leaving the bend.

Champ Pegasus had some traffic difficulties earlier in the race but angled out for room in the homestretch and challenged Bourbon Bay on the outside. They drew even near mid-stretch and battled head-and-head all the way to the wire. Champ Pegasus, under strong handling and a late crack of the whip from Rosario, got the nose bob in an extremely tight finish.

“The other day my horse (in the San Marcos) got a little tired, I don’t know. Maybe a race that went a little farther helped a bit," Rosario said.

"They are both good horses. You saw how the race came out, I only beat him by this much,” Rosario said as he held his thumb and forefinger an inch apart. “I thought I got in front of him a couple of times, but he came back again."

“I don’t think he liked the soft turf," trainer Neil Drysdale said of Bourbon Bay. "Off of this race, both horses deserve to go to Dubai.”

It was 3 1/4 lengths back to Hollywood Derby (gr. I) winner Haimish Hy, ridden by Garret Gomez, in third.

Winner of Oak Tree's grade I Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (over Bourbon Bay) at Hollywood Park and the Del Mar Handicap (gr. IIT) last year, Champ Pegasus improved to 5-4-1 in 11 lifetime starts and boosted his earnings to $1,018,520.

Under equal weight of 123 pounds with Bourbon Bay, Champ Pegasus paid $5, $2.40, and $2.40 and topped an $8.80 exacta. Bourbon Bay, who has now lost two of three races against Champ Pegasus, returned $2.40 and $2.40. Haimish Hy, who also toted 123, was $3.60 to show.

Brazilian-bred Imponente Purse finished fourth, followed by Juniper Pass, Buenos Dias, Riviera Cocktail, Interpatation, and Unbridle's Dream.

Falcon Rock, Marlang, Pode Ir, and Tiz Argent scratched.