08/06/2010 3:34PM

J P's Gusto, Sway Away top contenders in Best Pal

Benoit & Associates
J P's Gusto, winner of the Willard Proctor Stakes, is a prime contender in Sunday's Best Pal.

DEL MAR, Calif. – Two-year-olds get tested for class Sunday in the Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar.

“Now is when you find out who’s who, and who’s not,” Jeff Bonde said.

He trains Sway Away, among the most highly regarded juveniles in California but facing tougher in the Best Pal than the maidens he crushed first out at Pleasanton.

His rivals Sunday include J P’s Gusto and Western Mood, one-two in the Hollywood Juvenile; maiden-claiming winner Comma to the Top, Minutesandtouches, and speedball River’s Chapel. The filly Wickedly Perfect was expected to run Friday in the Grade 3 Sorrento Stakes.

J P’s Gusto is the most accomplished, having won two stakes under Joe Talamo in spring at Hollywood Park. He will have a new rider for the Best Pal. Talamo was hurt Thursday and is out for the meet. Does a rider change matter for J P’s Gusto?

“I’m more concerned about the one-hole than the jock,” trainer David Hofmans said.

He said Patrick Valenzuela will ride J P’s Gusto if Valenzuela’s scheduled mount, Wickedly Perfect, is scratched.

J P’s Gusto won the Willard Proctor with speed, running away by more than four lengths with a 92 Beyer. He won the Juvenile in a fist fight. Collared at the top of the lane by Western Mood, J P’s Gusto battled the length of the stretch to win by a neck with a 76 Beyer.

Over the past two weeks, J P’s Gusto has trained super over Polytrack.

“He loves it,” Hofmans said. “He really, really likes it. You can see by his fast works.”

J P’s Gusto has two strong six-furlong works at Del Mar, and a versatile running style.

But the horse to beat Sunday may be Sway Away, whose 3 1/4-length debut earned an 83 Beyer. He runs and behaves like an older horse.

“He’s a big, good-looking horse,” Bonde said. “He looks like a 3-year-old.” He acts that way, too.

“A lot of 2-year-olds are skittish, they nip and bite,” Bonde said. “He could care less.”

Rafael Bejarano worked Sway Away twice over the track.

“He’s been working really well, and finishing,” Bejarano said. “He’ll come from behind, with one big run.”

Sway Away worked with an exercise rider Wednesday. A son of Afleet Alex who has a slightly sway back, Sway Away was timed in 35.60 seconds. Bonde said the work was easy – “like he was galloping.”