08/09/2007 11:00PM

Salute the Sarge faces one less foe

Alex Evers/Horsephotos
Salute the Sarge got up by a nose to win the Grade 3 Hollywood Juvenile on the Fourth of July.

DEL MAR, Calif. - A key scratch from the Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes on Sunday at Del Mar will make it easier for Salute the Sarge to remain unbeaten when he races 6 1/2 furlongs in the first graded stakes of the meet open to 2-year-old males.

Slam Slew would have been favored in the $150,000 Best Pal based on an impressive June 30 maiden win, but he started coughing Thursday and will scratch, according to trainer Richard Mandella.

"He's not sick with a temperature, but he's congested," Mandella said.

Slam Slew could resume galloping early next week, and Mandella said "there's a good chance he could still make the Futurity." The Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity will be run closing day, Sept. 5, and will attract some of the

2-year-olds that run Sunday in the Best Pal.

Slam Slew earned a 92 Beyer Figure in his maiden win; none of the other five Best Pal entrants has come close to the number. That includes Salute the Sarge, who won his Hollywood Park debut with an 82 Beyer, then slid to 71 winning the Grade 3 Hollywood Juvenile. As to his colt's low figures, trainer Eric Guillot says, so what?

"I've never been a numbers person," Guillot said. "Who you beat and what company you've been keeping is everything."

Salute the Sarge won the Hollywood Juvenile by a nose, and has four solid Polytrack works since. Guillot expects an improved effort Sunday, which is needed for Salute the Sarge and jockey Michael Baze to catch Georgie Boy, winner of the Graduation Stakes by three lengths on July 25.

"I don't like to come back in 18 days," Georgie Boy's trainer, Kathy Walsh, admitted. But she added that Georgie Boy "came out of the race great. If he's good and sharp, I'll run."

The scratch of Slam Slew leaves the Best Pal without a pacesetter; Georgie Boy could inherit the lead by default. Joe Talamo rides.

Based on figures, three other Best Pal entrants have modest ability. Leonides won his June 16 debut with an 83 Beyer, then finished a nose behind Salute the Sarge in the Hollywood Juvenile.

Sky Cape won his May 20 debut with a 71, and Mix's highest Beyer is 68.