Bourbon Bay, the West Coast’s premier turf marathoner for most of 2010, takes on last season's late-developing Champ Pegasus in the $150,000 San Marcos Stakes (gr. IIT) at Santa Anita on Martin Luther King Jr. Day Jan. 17.
The 1 ¼-mile San Marcos, set for a 4:07 p.m. PST post as the eighth race on the program, lured a field of 11. Champ Pegasus, runner-up in the Emirates Airline Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IIT) at Churchill Downs Nov. 6, drew the far outside post while Bourbon Bay leaves from the 6-hole.
Also on card is the $75,000 San Pedro Stakes for 3-year-olds at 6 ½ furlongs. First post is at 12:30 p.m.
Unbeaten over the Santa Anita turf, Bourbon Bay last year ran the table on the winter/spring meet’s grade II turf marathons -- the San Luis Obispo, San Luis Rey, and San Juan Capistrano handicaps.
But when he returned to racing from a 5 ½-month vacation, Champ Pegasus had ascended to the local division's leadership, which he cemented by winning Oak Tree's Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (gr. IT) at Hollywood Park Oct. 3. The comebacking Bourbon Bay ran third, one length behind.
Diamond A Racing and Arturo Vargas' homebred Champ Pegasus, who had not won a stakes race until taking the Del Mar Handicap (gr. IIT) Aug. 29, followed his Hirsch triumph with a game runner-up effort to Great Britain-based Dangerous Midgeat odds of 9-1 in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
Freshened since the Breeders’ Cup by trainer Richard Mandella, Champ Pegasus has trained forwardly for his return and will be reunited with jockey Joel Rosario. They had led into the stretch of the Breeders' Cup Turf before finally yielding to the winner by 1 ¼ lengths.
“I gave the jockey an open ticket,” Mandella said in reviewing the Breeders’ Cup performance. “I was afraid if we took him back, we’d get buried behind a slow pace and no one would go to the lead. I said, ‘We might as well let him gallop along,’ and it almost worked.
“He’s doing good,” Mandella added. “We gave him a little bit of a rest and he’s back in great shape. We expect him to run his best race.”
Champ Pegasus, who didn’t break his maiden until four days before Bourbon Bay’s victory in the April 18 San Juan Capistrano, is expected to be a solid favorite in his comeback. The 5-year-old son of Fusaichi Pegasus has won four of his last six starts with two seconds. His overall record stands at 4-3-1 in nine starts with earnings of $898,520.
Trainer Neil Drysdale has kept David and Jill Heerensperger's Bourbon Bay out of action since he rallied for third in the Hirsch. A minor setback kept the son of Sligo Bay without a workout for nearly one month, but he has been training steadily since Dec. 5.
Rafael Bejarano, Bourbon Bay’s regular rider, is optimistic. “He definitely needed his last race,” said Bejarano. “He closed some ground and was in against some good horses. I think he’s going to be tough in this race, and a mile-and-a-quarter should be perfect for him.”
The 5-year-old gelding owns an overall record of 5-2-3 in 14 starts. He has earned $419,424. The Heerenspergers and Drysdale won the San Marcos two years ago with 8-year-old Artiste Royal.
Champ Pegasus will share high weight of 123 pounds with Unusual Suspect while Bourbon Bay totes 120. Unusual Suspect is coming off a 10-1 upset victory in the Hollywood Turf Cup (gr. IT) at 1 ½ miles on Nov. 13. The win ended a 16-race losing streak for the son of Unusual Heat, co-owned and trained by Barry Abrams. The San Marcos is the 56th career start for the 7-year-old bay who will be ridden by Corey Nakatani. Unusual Suspect has earned $1,035,171 from a 9-8-6 record.
Drysdale will also send out Marlang, a 6-year-old Canadian-bred son of Langfuhr who defeated Champ Pegasus by one length in Hollywood Park’s Sunset Handicap (gr. IIIT) last summer. Marlang subsequently finished fourth behind Champ Pegasus in the Hirsch.
Garrett Gomez, who has ridden the winners of the last three runnings of the San Marcos, has the mount on Sebastian Flyte for trainer Ben Cecil and Triple B Farms. The British-bred 4-year-old has raced three times in the United States and most recently lost by a neck to Haimish Hy in the Hollywood Derby (gr. IT) at 1 ¼ miles on turf on Nov. 28 at Hollywood Park.
$150,000 San Marcos Stakes (gr. IIT, Race 8, 4:07 p.m.), 4 & Up, 1 1/4 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Philatelist (KY), P A Valenzuela, 118, H Ascanio
2. Imponente Purse (BRZ), C Sutherland, 118, A C Avila
3. Unusual Suspect (CA), C S Nakatani, 123, B Abrams
4. Riviera Cocktail (KY), A Quinonez, 118, N D Drysdale
5. Marlang (ON), D R Flores, 118, N D Drysdale
6. Bourbon Bay (KY), R Bejarano, 120, N D Drysdale
7. Where's the Remote (CA), J Talamo, 118, M R Mitchell
8. Buenos Dias (IRE), B Blanc, 118, R L McAnally
9. Expansion (KY), V Espinoza, 118, S M Asmussen
10. Sebastian Flyte (GB), G K Gomez, 118, B D Cecil
11. Champ Pegasus (KY), J Rosario, 123, R E Mandella