02/17/2011 1:47PM

Champ Pegasus ready rain or shine in San Luis Obispo


ARCADIA, Calif. – Regardless of the weather, Champ Pegasus will start in Saturday’s $150,000 San Luis Obispo Stakes at Santa Anita.

Rain is forecast, and there is a likelihood that the Grade 2 San Luis Obispo Stakes will be run on a less-than-firm turf course. It may even lead to a change in the layout of the race over 1 1/2 miles, with the race starting on the turf course oval and not its customary position on the hillside. By doing that, the field would avoid crossing over the main track in the first half-mile. If the rain is truly persistent, the race could be moved to the main track.

Regardless, Champ Pegasus will be on the card, trainer Richard Mandella insists.

“If I have to, I’ll run him on the dirt,” he said. “I’m kind of anxious to try it the way he trains over it.”

A race on the dirt, or a soft turf course, may be easier for Champ Pegasus, as the participation of expected favorite Bourbon Bay depends on conditions. Trainer Neil Drysdale is reluctant to run the four-time stakes winner in wet conditions.

“He’s not his best on soft,” he said.

If Bourbon Bay and Champ Pegasus start, it will be a rematch of the Grade 2 San Marcos Stakes on Jan. 17, when Bourbon Bay swooped past Champ Pegasus in the final furlong to win by 1 3/4 lengths.

The San Marcos was the first start for Champ Pegasus since a second in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Churchill Downs in November. Owned by breeders Gerald Ford and Arturo Vargas, Champ Pegasus beat Bourbon Bay in their first meeting in the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch Stakes at Hollywood Park in October, when Bourbon Bay returned from a five-month layoff.

Mandella insisted that Champ Pegasus needed the start in the San Marcos, when he ran near the front and took the lead on the turn.

“He’ll be fitter this time,” he said. “I’m hoping to take him back a little more. I don’t think [being on the lead] is what he wants to do.”

Bourbon Bay is unbeaten in five starts on Santa Anita turf – four Grade 2 stakes and an optional claimer in early 2010. Those races were on firm turf. Owned by Dave and Jill Heerensperger, Bourbon Bay is a stalker, who tends to race just behind the leaders.

Weather conditions aside, Bourbon Bay has thrived since his San Marcos win, Drysdale said.

“He’s doing very well,” he said. “The race helped him.”

There are 11 others in the San Luis Obispo field, but they will not figure as prominently in the betting as Bourbon Bay and Champ Pegasus.

Haimish Hy is one colt who could play a factor. Trained by Art Sherman, he won the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby over 1 1/4 miles on turf in an 11-1 upset in November but was only sixth in his first career start on a conventional track in the Grade 2 San Fernando Stakes on Jan. 15.

The San Luis Obispo will be Haimish Hy’s first start over 1 1/2 miles, but it’s worth noting that he flew home in the Hollywood Derby, closing from seventh in the final furlong.