02/28/2009 12:00AM

The Pamplemousse takes on 11 in Sham

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ARCADIA, Calif. - More than a month after The Pamplemousse won his stakes debut in the Grade 3 San Rafael Stakes, the performance still amazes jockey Alex Solis.

"I never moved on him," Solis said. "It was amazing the way he did it and kicked on."

The Pamplemousse led throughout that race, earning a spot among California's top 3-year-old males.

Now, he has to do it again in Saturday's $200,000 Sham Stakes. The circumstances will be different. Instead of a five-horse field in the San Rafael, the Grade 3 Sham Stakes has drawn 12 entrants. The San Rafael was run at a mile, while the Sham Stakes is 1 1/8 miles, the same distance as the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 4, the goal for many Sham runners.

Solis makes no secret of his strategy in the Sham. He will have The Pamplemousse near the front or on the lead, essentially daring rivals to take him on.

"I'm not going to take him back," Solis said. "He has that high cruising speed and that's his biggest weapon."

Trained by Julio Canani for a partnership that includes Solis's son, Alex Solis II, The Pamplemousse will be favored in the Sham. By Kafwain, the colt has thrived around two turns. He won his first start in a 1 1/16-mile maiden race at Hollywood Park on Dec. 14, his third career race. In that race, he fought for the lead to the final furlong and pulled away to win by 2 3/4 lengths.

"Every race, he's improved and gotten more professional," Canani said.

In the San Rafael, The Pamplemousse led throughout, setting quick fractions, and winning by two lengths over Square Eddie, the runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last October.

"In all of his races, he's getting stronger and stronger," Solis said. "He's such a big horse. Julio has done a great job letting him catch up to his body."

The Pamplemousse is one of three multiple-race winners in the Sham, along with Smart Bid and Take the Points. They are considered the main threats to The Pamplemousse, along with the impressive maiden race winner Mr. Hot Stuff and the stakes-placed turf runner Bourbon Bay.

Smart Bid won an optional claimer at a mile on turf here Jan. 19 in his California debut, and is part of the Sham field by default, trainer Graham Motion said. Similar to The Pamplemousse, Smart Bid is unbeaten in two starts around two turns, but has yet to start in a stakes. The Sham will be Smart Bid's first start on Santa Anita's Pro-Ride synthetic surface.

"The logical step is to see how he does with these kind of horses," Motion said. "I think he'll handle the track as well as he's handled the grass. He's handled everything he's run on.

"He's a very straightforward horse, which makes it easier. I think you can put him where you want."

Bourbon Bay has yet to start on a synthetic track, having raced exclusively on turf last year. He beat maidens at Ellis Park last August and has since placed in two stakes, including a third in the Grade 3 Generous Stakes at Hollywood Park on Nov. 29.

Bourbon Bay has not started since that race, but trainer Neil Drysdale is not concerned about the layoff.

"He's come on well" since the break, Drysdale said. "We gave him a break to grow up. He's strengthened."

The surface switch is more of an unknown.

"We feel it's worth trying him on the synthetic once," Drysdale said. "There is nothing to lose."

The race has drawn one invader, Take the Points, who arrives from Florida with a lofty reputation. Trained by Todd Pletcher, Take the Points won a one-mile allowance race at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 31 in his 3-year-old debut. The Sham Stakes will be his first start around two turns.

Mr. Hot Stuff was seventh behind The Pamplemousse in the Dec. 14 maiden race, but has thrived since. Mr. Hot Stuff's maiden race victory on Feb. 1 gave trainer Eoin Harty hope the colt can continue to develop.

"A mile and an eighth should be right up his alley," Harty said. "It's a massive step up in class. I'm cautiously optimistic."