08/27/2010 3:12PM

Champ Pegasus can claim a stakes in Del Mar Handicap

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Benoit & Associates
The 1 3/8 miles of the Del Mar Handicap should be within the distance capability of Champ Pegasus.

DEL MAR, Calif. – Champ Pegasus has been the surprising colt in trainer Richard Mandella’s barn this year.

After a maiden win in April, and a second in the Grade 3 Sunset Handicap at Hollywood Park in July, Champ Pegasus will start in Sunday’s $200,000 Del Mar Handicap with a realistic chance of winning his first stakes.

“He’s really come along,” Mandella said. “I didn’t expect that much out of him.”

The Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap is run over 1 3/8 miles on turf, a distance that should pose no problem for Champ Pegasus, who races for breeders Gerald Ford and Arturo Vargas. Champ Pegasus won an optional claimer over 1 1/4 miles on turf at Hollywood Park in June and was beaten a length by Marlang in the Sunset Handicap over 1 1/2 miles.

A win on Sunday could change Mandella’s outlook for Champ Pegasus’s fall campaign. The race is part of the Breeders’ Cup program’s Win and You’re In series, offering the winner an automatic berth to the BC Turf at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6.

Mandella was trying not to think that far ahead on Friday, but admitted his outlook could change if Champ Pegasus reaches the winner’s circle.

“Then, I’ll start to worry about it,” he said. “He’s come along very fast, but I’m excited to have him here now.”

The Del Mar Handicap did not draw a strong field. Of the 10 entrants, there are no 2010 stakes winners, and only three horses that have placed in graded stakes. Falcon Rock was second in the Grade 2 Jim Murray Handicap at Hollywood Park in May and Unusual Suspect has placed in four graded stakes this year.

Unusual Suspect is entered in Saturday’s $1 million Pacific Classic, and trainer Barry Abrams said on Friday that Unusual Suspect will start there.

Trainer Mike Mitchell has two runners in the Del Mar Handicap in the claimers Dynamic Range and Sporting Art, the winner of the 2008 Calder Derby.

Dynamic Range won an optional claimer over 1 3/8 miles on turf here on Aug. 12, and has thrived in recent training, Mitchell said.

“I didn’t have to run him here,” Mitchell said. “I could have run him back for $40,000 or $62,500. I told the owners, ‘It will cost a little bit of money, but the distance is perfect and he’s aggressive in his gallops.’ ”