06/16/2011 1:21PM

Monmouth Park: Pants On Fire figures to have company out front in Pegasus Stakes

Lou Hodges Jr.
Louisiana Derby winner Pants On Fire (above) runs for the same connections as Belmont winner Ruler On Ice.

OCEANPORT, N.J. – Funny how the pecking order in a barn can change in a hurry.

Prior to last weekend, Louisiana Derby winner Pants On Fire was a leading 3-year-old for Kelly Breen, the private trainer for George and Lori Hall.

Then Ruler On Ice upset the Belmont Stakes applecart at 24-1.

Suddenly, the barn had a new hero.

“It’s all about winning,” Breen said.

And Pants On Fire now has some catching up to do, starting Saturday in the Grade 3, $200,000 Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park.

Pants On Fire faces five opponents in a return to action sooner than expected in the 1 1/16-mile Pegasus.

He was the stable’s Kentucky Derby hope following his Louisiana Derby win, and Breen was very confident in the days leading up to the race.

Pants On Fire was well positioned for most of the run at Churchill Downs and was still in the mix rounding the final turn. He faded in the lane, running ninth while bleeding, despite running on Lasix.

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“He bled a lot,” Breen said.

It looked like Pants On Fire would be sidelined until later this summer. But back at hisMonmouth home base, Pants On Fire came around quickly. So fast, that he is able to make this race.

His first workout was a bullet drill May 27, a half-mile in 47 seconds.

“I had to do something with him because he was on edge,” Breen said. “I was going to give him time off. We couldn’t even give him a week off after the Derby. He was feeling too good.”

The final test came last week, a workout between races here June 10. Pants On Fire went a sharp 45.20 half-mile, an effort that put him in the Pegasus mix.

“I never thought he was going to go that fast,” Breen said. “If he was going to run in this race, he needed to scope clean and he did. The test wasn’t so much for speed as for his lungs.”

And those lungs could get an early test as the compact field appears loaded with early speed.

Pants On Fire, with Rosie Napravnik aboard, figures to fire right into the pace. So should Rush Now, the dominant pacesetting winner of Sthe pend a Buck Stakes, the Pegasus prep; Harlan’s Hello who was under consideration for the Belmont Stakes by owner-trainer Doodnauth Shivmangal; and Turbo Compressor, a first-level winner by 13 1/2 lengths here on the opening weekend.

The abundance of speed could set the table for trainer Justin Sallusto to scoop up another Grade 3 win with a closer.

A similar situation played to his advantage last weekend in the Monmouth Stakes on the turf, where Get Serious and Get Stormy forced the early pace and both paid the price. Sallusto’s Teaks North came rolling late to claim the prize.

This time, Sallusto sends out Clarke Lane, making his first start for the new barn. The colt, who ran four times on the grass in England last year, made two starts this season in California. He stormed home to miss by a neck in a first-level allowance on dirt at Santa Anita before getting third in the Alydar Stakes at Hollywood Park over the synthetic strip.

“He shipped in a month ago from California,” Sallusto said. “He’s adapted very well. He worked very well last week. I think he’ll be formidable.”

Concealed Identity, the Tesio winner who was 10th in the Preakness, completes the field. He is co-owned by Morris Bailey, the real estate and casino executive who is finalizing a lease to take over Monmouth Park.

Ever Always tries to stay perfect

Ever Always has a world of talent, when she’s healthy enough to race.

A 5-year-old, Ever Always is a perfect 4 for 4 in her brief career. She will look to extend that streak in the $65,000 Open Mind Handicap for New Jersey-bred fillies and mares at six furlongs.

This will be her second start at the meet, following a layoff of almost two years.

“Obviously, she’s not a sound filly,” trainer Jason Servis said. “She has some issues, that’s why I don’t breeze her that much. She’s probably done all this while being 75 percent.”