ARCADIA, Calif. - After Saturday's $150,000 San Luis Obispo Stakes at Santa Anita, it's safe to say there is a tie at the top of the California turf marathon division.
Champ Pegasus and Bourbon Bay met for the third time in their careers, and after splitting the first two decisions they were separated by only a nose at the wire of the Grade 2 San Luis Obispo Stakes over about 1 1/2 miles on turf.
Champ Pegasus ($5) was timed in 2:31.55 on a rain-soaked turf course rated good. Bourbon Bay, the 11-10 favorite, finished 3 1/4 lengths ahead of Haimish Hy, who rallied from last in a field of nine.
Their respective trainers, Richard Mandella and Neil Drysdale, said both Champ Pegasus and Bourbon Bay are likely to start in the $5 million Sheema Classic in Dubai on March 26.
Jockey Joel Rosario rode Champ Pegasus, who provided the 26-year-old jockey with his 10th stakes win of the winter-spring meeting. Rosario had Champ Pegasus in a stalking position for the first six furlongs, as close as third and as far back as fifth, while tracking Unbridle's Dream, who led by as many as 12 lengths early.
For the pacesetter, the advantage was too much to sustain. Unbridle's Dream, who set early fractions of 25.23 and 49.75 seconds, was only two lengths in front with a quarter-mile remaining when Bourbon Bay and Champ Pegasus began to move closer.
Bourbon Bay, ridden by Rafael Bejarano, took the lead in early stretch, and led by a length at the eighth pole. Champ Pegasus, racing outside Bourbon Bay, closed steadily and took the lead in the final strides.
"I could see the other horse digging in and they fought like dogs," Mandella said.
Bourbon Bay's loss was his first in six starts on the Santa Anita turf course. He had won four stakes, including a win by 1 3/4 lengths over Champ Pegasus in the Grade 2 San Marcos Stakes over 1 1/4 miles on turf last month.
Rosario said he thought Champ Pegasus benefited from that race.
"The other day I thought he got a little tired," Rosario said. "I think a little more distance helped my horse."
Drysdale said he thought the turf course did not suit Bourbon Bay on Saturday.
"He had a little trouble with the ground," he said. "There isn't much separating these horses. He ran very well."
Champ Pegasus, second in the Breeders' Cup Turf at Churchill Downs last fall, won the third stakes of his career in the San Luis Obispo. Last October, he won the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch Turf Championship at Hollywood Park, a race in which Bourbon Bay finished third.
Owned by breeders Gerald Ford and Arturo Vargas, Champ Pegasus has won 5 of 11 starts and $1,018,520.
The race was run on the oval portion of the turf course, and not with a start on the hillside turf course, which is customary for races at that distance. As a result, the race was run about 40 feet short of 1 1/2 miles.
Unbridle's Dream finished last and was vanned off with a suspensory injury, according to track stewards.