08/12/2009 11:00PM

Royal Punisher takes big step up in class


DEL MAR, Calif. - All right all you clones, grab a vine and get ready to talk some smack. There's a tour stop on Friday at Del Mar for Jim Rome, not an official one, mind you, but a potentially lucrative one.

Rome - host of popular sports talk shows on radio and television - has purchased a part-interest in the promising 3-year-old Royal Punisher, who was a dazzling winner of his debut at Hollywood Park on July 11. Royal Punisher is going from that maiden win straight into a stakes race on Friday, the $100,000 Real Good Deal Stakes. Welcome, indeed, to the jungle.

"This is a big step up," David Hofmans, the trainer of Royal Punisher, acknowledged. "But he's very talented. And he's very fast."

Royal Punisher, a gelding by Fusaichi Pegasus, set blazing fractions in his debut and kept on rolling to a 2 1/2-length win over Star Redeemer, who came out of that race to win. Royal Punisher earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 98. But of the 10 California-breds entered in the seven-furlong Real Good Deal, he is the least experienced. That is one reason that jockey Iggy Puglisi, who gets precious few chances on this circuit, has retained the mount after riding Royal Punisher first time out.

"Iggy's been working him. He's kind of a quirky horse," Hofmans said. "He's by Fusaichi Pegasus, so he's got some of that. You can't rate him much. He wants to go. Iggy gets along with him really well."

"I don't ask for favors, but before he ran, I asked Dave if I could ride him, because I really wanted to ride this horse," Puglisi said. "He's a little kooky. He's a little bit of a nut. He's extremely talented, but I don't think he's all there yet."

Another lightly raced gelding, M One Rifle, figures as the main challenger. Like Royal Punisher, M One Rifle comes off a maiden win at Hollywood in which he led from gate to wire to beat a second-place finisher who subsequently won. It was the second start for M One Rifle, and he beat open company, rather than statebreds.

Escalon was a debut winner here last summer at age 2. He is making his first start since December.

Brushburn has won twice in three starts at Del Mar over the past two summers. He beat a first-level allowance field going one mile on July 22.