Win, lose or dead heat, Best Pal will receive a rest after shooting for his fifth straight victory of 1992 in the $700,000 Pimlico Special tomorrow.
Owner John Mabee said the 4-year-old gelding probably will bypass two Eastern legs of the American Championship Racing Series he has dominated.
"He's had a pretty good campaign this year," Mabee said. "But we do want to limit his races. Shipping takes something out of him and there's a little more chance of him getting hurt. We'll probably miss two races, but the plan is subject to change. We'll see how he runs here."
Best Pal was assigned the outside post position in the seven-horse Special field yesterday and was installed the even-money favorite in the morning odds.
That was fine with his trainer, Gary Jones, who said, "I'm really happy. I can do whatever I want from there. He can lay close if he wants to, but I think there's going to be a lot of speed in the race."
The son of Habitony has gone unbeaten this year by lying a few lengths off the pace, then mounting a powerful move.
Mabee said he likes to "showcase the horse as much as possible. He's very popular in California and we'd like to have him popular in the East.
"And he doesn't have a stallion career ahead of him, so we'd like to bring him back here next year for the Pimlico Special."
Mabee is chairman of the board at Del Mar where the final race in the ACRS series, the $1 million Pacific Classic, is conducted. Best Pal won that race last August.
"He loves that track and you do carry equal weights in that race," Mabee said.
And the ARCS point race, which is worth a $750,000 bonus to the connections of the top horse?
"You'd like to be the top point earner, but it's not life and death," Mabee said. "The horse's welfare has to come first."
The D. Wayne Lukas-trained Twilight Agenda, second and third behind Best Pal in their last two meetings, was made the 4-1 second choice, but Jones expressed the most concern about Defensive Play, the 4 1/4 -length winner of the Excelsior Handicap in his last outing and 6-1 on the early line.
"I feel good about my horse," said Bobby Frankel, trainer of Defensive Play. "He's doing good now and getting the weight from Best Pal (spotted 12 pounds) helps. If we don't beat him Saturday, we'll never beat him."
Frankel conceded that if Best Pal runs his best again, the race is over. But he, like the other competition, is counting on the favorite "bouncing", an inside term for a subpar race after an impressive one.
"They don't think I'm invincible or they wouldn't be here," said Jones. "That scares the hell out of me."
Twilight Agenda bruised his heel last Saturday at Churchill Downs and Lukas said "it's a little tender," but he hasn't missed work."
Lukas, who has trained the last two Special winners, Farma Way and Criminal Type, said he likes the track surface better than last year when he considered it "abrasive. It's a little softer and that should help."
But like everyone but Jones, he is chasing and hoping in this race.
"In a nine-race series, it would be hard to fathom one horse winning them all, but I don't advise you to bet against Best Pal," Lukas said.
Fly So Free, at 6-to-1, has been turning in strong workouts and trainer Scotty Schulhofer said the horse appears to be recovered from some winter sickness.
Fly So Free went three furlongs in 35 3/5 in his first work at Pimlico Race Course yesterday.