The Travers is looking pretty dumb, so that just makes Del Mar’s crown jewel, the Pacific Classic (I), an even more awesome race than it already was building up to be! While we won’t be seeing Acclamation after all, plenty of stars are aligning for this “Win And You’re In” classic race contested at 1 1/4 miles on Del Mar’s synthetic surface. While the surface is fake, these horses are all the real deal as we wind down to Breeders’ Cup time… pretty obvious that Californian horses will have the advantage this year as the Cup journeys back to Santa Anita. Game On Dude will not have an easy time as the 5-2 morning line favorite, as he fights Richard’s Kid again along with the electrifying Suggestive Boy and the mysterious import filly, Amani. Plus, I’ve been saying to myself all week If Rail Trip draws the rail in the Pacific Classic (where his odds of winning are less than desirable), he’s worth a hunch bet from me.
All in all, this is a tough race to handicap because of the quality, but the great thing is there’s a big chance for upset here and lots of value however the tote decides to play. Weather looks to be perfect all weekend long.
$1 million Pacific Classic (I) - 3-Year-Olds & Up. 1 1/4 miles on synthetic at Del Mar. Post Time: Sunday, August 26 at 5:18 PDT.
[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]
1) Rail Trip - Jose Valdivia, Ron Ellis - A big fan favorite, the Jump Start gelding has made a dramatic comeback this year, winning his last start wonderfully while securing a Dirt Mile berth in the Del Mar Handicap (II). He can certainly step up in distance— he was 3rd in the ‘09 Pacific Classic and 2nd in the ‘10 Hollywood Gold Cup— and has been looking very nice leading up to the race. A real hunch bet humming off the rail, Rail Trip will likely sit off Game On Dude and try to improve even more. He’s worth consideration to hit the board, and I will mention again to not disregard a Jay Em Ess-connected entry!
2) Amani [CHI] - Garrett Gomez, Neil Drysdale - Almost undefeated in her home country of Chile, the daughter of Morning Raider [IRE] looks to improve off an already promising 3rd place effort in her first North American start, the loaded Clement L. Hirsch (I), where she traveled a bit wide after a rocky start and still beat G1 winner Switch. Upset potential lies in wait here, and the presence of Gomez in the irons really appeals to me. Take her at sweet odds.
3) Richard’s Kid - Victor Espinoza, Leandro Mora [Doug O’Neill] - Bob Baffert was understandably angry when he lost this Lemon Drop Kid son, a warrior of 35 races including a win in this same race back in 2009. He has only fallen off the board once at Del Mar… in a turf race… and was unstoppable last out in the 1 1/2 mile Cougar II Handicap (II) here, winning by 1 1/2 lengths. Definitely a good bet here and arguably the scariest closer in a field certain to have some speed.
4) Where’s Sterling - Paco Lopez, Luis Ramirez - The Florida-based son of Northern Afleet was pleasing enough to ship out west after two very impressive stakes wins at Calder, which he won by 3 3/4 lengths and 7 lengths. He’s a decent G3 winner with one past attempt at a G1 in the 2012 Donn Handicap (I) won by Hymn Book, where he placed a good 4th after getting shoved in the stretch. A good closer and an underdog no one will be watching, he seems to like Del Mar enough with a :59 4/5 bullet. His recent speed figures look great, and I’m really eager to use him in some exotic plays.
5) Dullahan - Joel Rosario, Dale Romans - A horse who has proven he loves the feel of synthetic under his feet has a G1 to prove it. The chestnut son of Even the Score zoomed to 2 graded wins on synthetic beating top class horses, and after a slow show in the Haskell (I), he’s ready to get back to it. His works show he’s healthy and ready for round 2, but competing with older horses for the first time— and good ones!— may knock down his usual victory route. He should enjoy the fast pace, however.
6) Akkadian - Martin Garcia, Julio Canani - The Tiznow gelding is the lone non-stakes winner in the field, but has 1 win and 2 seconds from 3 starts this year. He beat out some decent horses including Lexington (III) champ All Squared Away, in his last allowance start over a mile at Del Mar. He runs, but has no answer in the stretch in graded company, so a big class step-up waits for him again here.
7) Jaycito - Rafael Bejarano, Bob Baffert - Never a big fan of this Zayat horse, an injury-plagued son of Victory Gallop hoping to return to the top here after a confidence-boosting allowance race won here in July. A favorite for many and while his works look good enough, his speed figures for the year put me to sleep.
8) Suggestive Boy [ARG] - Joe Talamo, Ron McAnally - A really nice Argentinian import, the son of Easing Along warmed right up to the States with a great runner-up effort in the Shoemaker Mile (I) (just behind the freakish winner Jeranimo) followed by a win in the mile-long Wickerr Stakes, both grass starts. Distance doesn’t look to be a problem with his works, and Suggestive Boy could easily follow the footsteps of Candy Ride with his whipsmart mile licks. He may be off the grass, but keep this Boy in your thoughts.
9) Game On Dude - Chantal Sutherland, Bob Baffert - The darling favorite, the Awesome Again gelding looks to shoot another win from a starting spot on the outside straight to the wire. He has won 2 G2s and 1 G1— the Hollywood Gold Cup— already this year and in eager fashion. While he’s stronger at 1 1/8 miles, the Dude has no issue making the full 10 furlongs, especially on synthetic, though he finished 4th here last year trying to chase Acclamation. Hopefully Chantal will do well to drag the pace up front, as that’s the only way he’ll secure the win.
10) Riveting Reason - David Flores, Mwung Kwon Cho - Another outsider looking in, the Fusiachi Pegasus son has no stakes wins. He will likely be overwhelmed by the talent here early on, though he does seem to like Del Mar best and has fired 2 sub-minute bullets recently.
Top Picks in Order:
1) Game On Dude
2) Amani [CHI]
3) Richard’s Kid
4) Where’s Sterling
This race has had only 4 favorites in 21 runnings ultimate win, the last being Go Between getting the job done in 2008. With that said, favorite and likely pacesetter Game On Dude will have to contend with 5 proven closers in the stretch and is the one with the most to lose here. Amani [CHI] and Richard’s Kid should both use that extra furlong to try to bring down the Dude, and despite his recent flaccidness, Dullahan should warm up at least a little bit to make a case with Rail Trip running in a convenient spot closer to the front. But, I trust GOD, and he is honest-to-goodness a smart AND a fast horse who doesn’t like to quit, looking better than ever this year. Amani has a lot of appeal with her sharp record, and is worth a boxed exacta. Richard’s Kid, obviously, an awesome horse, and Where’s Sterling I’m taking a chance with.
Value Pick(s): Where’s Sterling, Suggestive Boy [ARG]