08/19/2005 12:00AM

Unfurl the Flag has tactical edge in O'Brien


DEL MAR, Calif. - If he ever gets out of training, Dave Bernstein could teach speed reading. The trainer of Unfurl the Flag took a quick glance at the past performances of Sunday's Grade 2, $300,000 Pat O'Brien Breeders' Cup Handicap, then sized up the field the way many handicappers will.

"It looks favorable for us," Bernstein said. "He has drawn well. Beau Soleil has a ton of speed. It's going to be who's good enough between those two, and then whether they can hold off the closers."

That's a scenario that worked quite well for Unfurl the Flag last month at Hollywood Park, when he ascended to the top of California's sprint division with a victory in the Grade 1 Triple Bend Handicap, in which he earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 110. Like the Triple Bend, the Pat O'Brien is also at seven furlongs, and Unfurl the Flag again has drawn a post outside his main pace rival, giving him a tactical advantage.

"He has got a good post. I can't complain there," Bernstein said. "The question is - will he run over this track? We know he loves Hollywood Park. But this track favors closers, at least more so than Hollywood."

Everything is relative. Del Mar is hardly a closer's paradise; the track here merely has been playing fair. At Hollywood, though, especially the final month of the meet, front-runners had all the advantage.

landed post 7 in the field of nine, with Beau Soleil drawn in post 3. On paper, those two are the dominant speed, with everyone else either stalking or coming from way behind. Unfurl the Flag's rivals also include Bear in the Woods and McCann's Mojave, who dead-heated for second in the Triple Bend while beaten two lengths by Unfurl the Flag.

returned from a 15-month layoff on July 31 and scored a fast, front-running victory in an optional-claiming field. He was claimed out of that race for $62,500 by trainer Ted H. West and owner Jeff Sengara, whose track record with claimers such as this (e.g., Bluesthestandard, Budroyale) is uncanny.

perked up at Hollywood after a brief freshening, with a victory and a second-place finish. This will be his first race at Del Mar.

The Pat O'Brien marks the comeback of Imperialism, a survivor of the Triple Crown wars of 2004 who has not raced since the Santa Anita Handicap in March. Though most of his races have been around two turns, Imperialism has the style of a late-running sprinter, and a repeat of his first start for trainer Kristin Mulhall, in the 2004 San Vicente Stakes at seven furlongs, would make him a formidable runner here.

"He pulled a muscle really bad in the Santa Anita Handicap," Mulhall said. "He could hardly walk behind. He has never worked like he has been working. Normally he's pretty lazy. I hope that's a good sign. I think he's ready. He has a huge kick. As long as the speed goes, he can sit back and then come flying."

Bear in the Woods and Pt's Grey Eagle are coupled in the wagering. Bear in the Woods is turning back to a sprint after finishing fourth in the San Diego Handicap on July 24.