Champion Lodge Likes it Soft in San Luis Rey

Irish-bred Champion Lodge took advantage of Santa Anita's yielding turf course Saturday, coming from off the pace to deliver a sharp six-length upset in the $250,000 San Luis Rey Handicap (gr. IIT).

The son of Sri Pekan, owned by Ronald Charles and Clear Valley Stables, was ridden by Alex Solis and carried 113 pounds for trainer Sandy Shulman. Champion Lodge covered the 1 1/2-mile San Luis Rey was 2:33.48.

Solis settled the 6-year-old bay gelding, who was making his third United States start, off the pace while saving ground most of the way. Responding to slight urging, Champion Lodge split rivals near the 3/8-pole, challenged front-running Special Matter in the stretch and took command with about a furlong to go, closing things out with a powerful final kick.

Special Matter dicatated the slow early pace, going the opening half mile in :50 1/5, 1:15 4/5 for six furlongs and 1:41.65 for the opening mile. With Tyler Baze aboard, Special Matter was able to hold off charging Adminniestrator and jockey David Flores by a lenth for second. Favored Delta Form, the 117-pound top weight who went to the post at 2-1, was sixth in the seven-horse field. It was his first start since December 15, when he was last of 14 in the Hon Kong Vase (group I) at Sha Tin.

Champion Lodge was a disappointing fifth while well backed in the 1 1/4-mile San Marino at Santa Anita, his last start on Feb. 20. He opened the year with victory at one mile in an optional claimer on Jan. 15. A winner of four of 21 starts in Great Britain, he had never gone longer than 1 1/4 mile. His second U.S. victory was worth $150,000 to his connections and doubled his career bankroll to $301,804.

"Last time I think I rode a bad race and that I could have kept him a little closer to the pace," Solis said of the San Marino. "(Champion Lodge) got a little too quiet back there and didn't have anything left at the finish for me. I learned from that race, so this time I kept him in the race and he was very game to the wire. He was pretty good today and really liked that soft grass."

A happy Shulman picked up his first graded stakes victory since the 1996 Los Angeles Handicap at Hollywood Park with Abaginone. It was his first stakes win at Santa Anita since 1998, when he won the Santa Paula Stakes with Loveontheroad. Shulman said Champion Lodge would likely next try the San Juan Capistrano (gr. IT) at about 1 3/4 mile on April 20.

Mike Smith, aboard Delta Form, said, "He was good going into the race, but then came the rain and that added to the fitness thing a little bit. He started getting tired and I just kind of guided him on home. But he'll come back and run big next time."

Sent off the 7-1 fifth choice in the field of seven, which was reduced by four scratches, Champion Lodge paid $16.20, $7.20 and $4.40. Special Matter returned $6.40 and $4. Adminniestrator's show price was $3.40. The $2 exacta $90.80.

(Chart, Equibase)