Updated on 09/17/2011 11:20AM

Marathon man

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Benoit & Associates
Champion Lodge has proved a bargain purchase for Ron Charles and Shig Katayama.

ARCADIA, Calif. - At the Dec. 26 start of the long Santa Anita winter meet, trainer Sandy Shulman hoped European import Champion Lodge would develop into a useful allowance horse. It was a realistic objective for a 6-year-old gelding owners Ron Charles and Shig Katayama had purchased last fall for $68,000.

Champion Lodge has soared beyond expectations to emerge as the leading marathon turf horse in California. On Sunday, last day of the Santa Anita winter meet, Champion Lodge tries to top off his rise to prominence in the Grade 1, $400,000 San Juan Capistrano Handicap. Nine entered the 1 3/4-mile race, which did not attract a stellar field.

"The race is not as strong as it could have been," Shulman said. "We got fortunate horses like The Tin Man and Johar aren't running. If they were, obviously we wouldn't be highweight."

Champion Lodge carries 117 pounds, one more than Nazirali. They are the only graded stakes winners in the field in sharp form. The others in the field are Delta Form; Adminniestrator, winner of a restricted stakes race early in the meet; front-runners All the Boys and Timber Cruiser; and longshots Passinetti, Special Matter, and Noble Kinsman.

Although Champion Lodge was helped by the yielding turf last month when he won the 1 1/2-mile San Luis Rey by six lengths, he won his United States debut over firm going. Surface is less of a consideration than distance.

"I think he'll get a mile and three-quarters," Shulman said. "He never has in the past, but neither have most of the other guys."

Alex Solis will ride Champion Lodge, who has won six races and $301,804 from 24 starts. His style should lead to a good trip right behind the speed, and if he reproduces his San Luis Rey romp, he should win the San Juan.

"He can't be given too much to do, because there's going to be some traffic," Shulman said.

The main threat to Champion Lodge is Nazirali. A Grade 2 winner last winter, his form tailed off last fall when he was found to have been suffering from a throat ailment. Given four months to recover, he returned April 2 with a sharp allowance win. He returns in 18 days.

"That's my only concern," trainer Julio Canani said. "But he was fit going into his comeback, and horses don't bounce when they're fit."

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