08/11/2006 11:00PM

'Preachin' ready to try 10 furlongs

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Of the nine probable starters in Sunday's $1 million Pacific Classic, Preachinatthebar is the only confirmed front-runner. Whether that plays a significant role in the outcome may not be known until Preachinatthebar reaches the stretch.

Trained by Bob Baffert for Mike Pegram, Preachinatthebar has won 8 of 26 starts but has never tried 1 1/4 miles. The Pacific Classic is a tough place to start. Preachinatthebar's opponents are expected to include Lava Man, the winner of the Santa Anita Handicap and Hollywood Gold Cup this year; Giacomo, the 2005 Kentucky Derby winner; and Perfect Drift, a 7-year-old gelding who has earned more than $4.5 million.

Baffert weighed running Preachinatthebar in the Pacific Classic against sending him to the $250,000 Longacres Mile at Emerald Downs on Sunday, and decided to stay home. The deciding factor was Preachinatthe-bar's second-place finish, beaten a head, to Giacomo in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on July 22.

"I think you have an advantage when you know your horse loves the track," Baffert said. "He's got speed, but I don't know how far he can take it."

Preachinatthebar was pressured on the front in the San Diego and set a quick pace - six furlongs in 1:09.85.

"He ran a winning race," Baffert said. "He showed some heart."

Baffert has often wondered if the 5-year-old Preachinatthebar is going to show the grittiness of his sire, Silver Charm. Silver Charm, who won the 1997 Kentucky Derby and 1998 Dubai World Cup, was the sort who seemed to enjoy a fight, often winning major races narrowly.

Silver Charm excelled at 1 1/4 miles. For Preachinatthebar to win at that distance, he may need to be left alone in the first half of the Pacific Classic. The presence of Lava Man, who can lead but is best when racing just behind the pacesetters, may make it hard for Preachinatthebar to get that kind of trip.

"He's never been up to the task," Baffert said of the distance. "With age, he's getting better."

The probable field also includes Good Reward, Magnum, Papi Chullo, Super Frolic, and Top This and That. Papi Chullo, a longshot, will be ridden by Robby Albarado, owner Greg Norman said.