10/16/2007 11:00PM

Odds get shorter for Pegram

EmailARCADIA, Calif. - Mike Pegram remembers the details as if they happened yesterday, instead of 15 years ago, as he stood in the paddock at Gulfstream Park, a raw rookie with a horse in the 1992 Breeders' Cup Sprint. The players in Pegram's little drama included jockey Eddie Delahoussaye, trainer Bob Baffert, and the 5-year-old gelding Thirty Slews, whose odds were blinking at 18-1. As the scene opens, Baffert is firing on all cylinders:

Eddie D.: What's the matter with you, Bob? You're nervous.

Baffert: We can win this thing!

Eddie D.: Don't you think I know that?

Pegram let loose a laugh, fresh as the day it happened, at the memory of Cool Hand Delahoussaye camping Thirty Slews just off the pace of Jorge Velasquez and Meafara, then wearing them down to win by a neck. Pegram and his partners celebrated long into the Hallandale night, spreading that 18-1 around, while figuring that something so grand would never happen again.

Dead wrong on that count. Pegram, who'd just turned 40 at the time of the Thirty Slews excitement, proceded to wrap a big ol' bear hug around the Thoroughbred game and still isn't about to let go. When the pre-entries for the Breeders' Cup at Monmouth Park were released Wednesday, there was Pegram's name - alongside those of partners Carl Watson and Paul Weitman - attached to the horse who is likely to go favored on Oct. 27 in the 2007 version of the Breeders' Cup Sprint, Midnight Lute.

Just for the record, only one owner in the 23 runnings of the Sprint has won it more than once. That would be C.N. and Carol Ray, racing as Evergreen Farm, with Lit de Justice and Elmhurst in 1996 and '97. Jenine Sahadi trained them both.

This speaks to the highly competitive nature of the six-furlong BC Sprint, and the fact that great sprinters tend to burn brightly for only a brief period of time. Among the 23 different winners, only Smile, Safely Kept, and Kona Gold came close to taking it twice.

Pegram doesn't pay much attention to such trend lines, though. He's pretty much a see-it, do-it kind of guy who uses a solid-gold business gut to make his decisions. Pegram parlayed a single McDonald's franchise into successive fast-food kingdoms, first in Seattle and then in Phoenix, giving him the ability to invest in Thoroughbreds at a level that fits his comfort zone.

For his trouble, Pegram stands as the only owner to have won a Kentucky Derby, a Kentucky Oaks, and a Dubai World Cup. He also snagged a second Breeders' Cup trophy with Silverbulletday, when she captured the 1998 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies the year before she took the Kentucky Oaks.

"Actually, that Thirty Slews trophy went to another one of the partners," Pegram said. "But I'll tell you what. I got the brown paper bag after that race. That was good enough for me."

And exactly how much was in that bag?

"Plenty," Pegram replied.

Midnight Lute will be far from 18-1, since he will descend upon Monmouth bearing a set of monster speed figures from his victory in the seven-furlong Forego Stakes at Saratoga on Sept. 1. It was his first win of the season, and his first race in 4 1/2 months.

"Six months ago, I wouldn't have dreamed he'd make the Breeders' Cup, with all the ups and downs we've had with him," Pegram said. "There's a lot of similarities between him and Thirty Slews, too."

Besides being trained by Baffert, both runners needed throat surgery to realize their full potential. And both horses are very big boys.

"Thirty Slews was so wide and so long he barely fit in the starting gate," Pegram recalled. "Midnight Lute is even longer, but I don't think he's as heavy. He's still got that Real Quiet in him."

That's the part Pegram likes best. Besides being the sire of Midnight Lute, Real Quiet gave Pegram his Kentucky Derby trophy in 1998, which was about all a kid from southern Indiana needed to go home happy for life.

"Any time I get in a bad mood I'll go look at that trophy and know how lucky I am," Pegram said.

There have been a few reasons to visit the Derby bauble over the last couple of years. Beyond the exploits of Grade 1 winner Pussycat Doll and now Midnight Lute, top horses have been scarce. And then there was Pegram's frustrating campaign to present California racing with a viable setting for a first-class Thoroughbred meeting at Los Alamitos Race Course, with plans and funding locked and loaded.

As it turned out, Pegram never heard an encouraging word from the racing establishment. So he took his energies elsewhere, and is now hip deep in the development of Bodine's, a 27,000-square-foot casino under construction in South Carson City, Nev., set to open next March.

"They're just now putting on the roof," said Pegram, who'll be tearing himself away from the site to attend the Breeders' Cup. "There's going to be a little racing personality in there, too. I think it's important for people to know who owns the place, so there may be a display area of our racing roots."

Including the Derby trophy?

"No," Pegram said. "That baby lives with me."