01/15/2011 2:12PM

Champ Pegasus kicks off season in San Marcos

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Benoit & Associates
Champ Pegasus followed this victory in the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch with a second in the Breeders' Cup Turf.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Last January, Champ Pegasus was a maiden. By July, he was a two-time winner and stakes-placed. By October, he was a two-time stakes winner. A month later, he nearly won the nation’s biggest turf race in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Churchill Downs.

All that makes for high anticipation for Champ Pegasus’s 2011 campaign, which begins in Monday’s $150,000 San Marcos Stakes at Santa Anita.

Owned by breeders Gerald Ford and Arturo Vargas, Champ Pegasus, 5, has not started since the BC Turf, when he lost by 1 1/4 lengths to the English import Dangerous Midge. For Champ Pegasus, it was his first start outside of California.

Trainer Richard Mandella said Champ Pegasus has been training well for the San Marcos.

“He hasn’t acted like he’s lost anything,” Mandella said.

Champ Pegasus is proven over the San Marcos distance of 1 1/4 miles on turf. He won twice at the distance at Hollywood Park last year – an optional claimer in June and the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch Stakes in October. In those races, he closed from well off the pace, but in the BC Turf he led throughout a slow pace.

“He’d never been on the lead, but no one else had either,” Mandella said of the BC Turf field. “I was afraid of getting behind a slow pace. It’s nice to see he’s versatile like that. He ran his heart out.”

The field of 11 in the San Marcos also includes Unusual Suspect, the winner of the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup in November in his last start; Bourbon Bay, the winner of three graded stakes here last winter and spring; and Sebastian Flyte, who was a troubled second when beaten a neck in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby over 1 1/4 miles on turf on Nov. 28.

In October, Sebastian Flyte was fourth, beaten three-quarters of a length, when racing between horses in the Grade 2 Oak Tree Derby over 1 1/8 miles on turf.

“He’s been unlucky,” trainer Ben Cecil said. “He’s got to keep improving, but he seems to be. He’s going the right way. This is not an easy race. We’ve got to beat the Breeders’ Cup second.”

Unusual Suspect won the Turf Cup over 1 1/2 miles, and may be better over that distance.

“I’d prefer a mile and a half,” trainer Barry Abrams said. “If he’s in the top three or four, I’ll be happy.”