By Margaret Ransom
A strong 11-race card is on tap at Del Mar on Saturday anchored by the $1 million TVG Pacific Classic (G1), back to its status as the West Coast’s premier summer event for handicap stars with a “Win and You’re In’’ designation to the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at the same track on Nov. 6.
A year ago, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the purse was cut in half, no spectators were allowed and star-crossed Maximum Security, trained by Bob Baffert, won the race.
Also on the card are the Del Mar Oaks (G1), the Del Mar Mile (G2), the Del Mar Handicap (G2), and the Torrey Pines (G3).
In the first 30 editions of the Pacific Classic, two winners have gone on to capture the BC Classic – Pleasantly Perfect in 2004 and Accelerate in 2018.
A “who’s who” of talented runners from the handicap division have taken top honors in the 10-furlong Pacific Classic, starting with California-bred gelding Best Pal, who was inducted into racing’s Hall of Fame in 2010. Other winners include Bertrando, Tinners Way (twice), Gentlemen, Free House, Skimming (twice), Lava Man, Game On Dude, Shared Belief, Beholder, California Chrome, and Higher Power.
Perhaps the most memorable Pacific Classic was 25 years ago when Dare and Go upset the great Cigar, who was riding a modern-day record for consecutive victories with 16. There was some controversy about his defeat at Del Mar and the way rival jockeys rode the race to defeat him rather than win with their own mounts, but Cigar came back to capture that year’s Woodward Stakes (G1) before losing the last two starts of his career, including the BC Classic.
The late Hall of Famer Garrett Gomez is tied with Triple Crown winner Mike Smith as the leading jockey for this race with four winners each and last year when Baffert sent out Maximum Security to victory, he tied Bobby Frankel as top trainer with six wins apiece.
The late Prince Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte Farms has been represented by four winners to maintain its status as the race’s leading owner.
Candy Ride ran the fastest time in 1:59.11 when he carried jockey Julie Krone to victory in 2003. The Hall of Fame jockey remains the only female – aside from Beholder – to have won the Pacific Classic.
Hall of Famer Richard Mandella will send out a pair in MyRacehorse.com and Spendthrift Farm’s Tizamagician and Fox Hill Farm and Siena Farm’s Royal Ship. The veteran conditioner has saddled four previous winners of the Pacific Classic – Beholder, 2015; Pleasantly Perfect, 2004; Gentlemen, 2007; and Dare and Go, 2006.
Tizamagician is coming off a convincing win in the 1 ½-mile Cougar II Stakes over this track a month ago. It was the Tiznow colt’s best performance so far, earning him a 115 BRISnet Speed figure and is the co-fourth choice on the morning line at 5-1. Leading rider Flavien Prat will be back aboard seeking a second Pacific Classic victory, having partnered with Higher Power for the win in 2019.
Royal Ship is coming off a third-place finish in the San Diego Stakes (G3), the prep for this event, in his last start a month ago. Previously he was third in the Hollywood Gold Cup (G1) at Santa Anita at this distance, so he’ll surely be fit. He will carry Mike Smith, who has been aboard for all seven starts in North America over the past year since the horse arrived from Brazil.
Express Train, trained by John Shirreffs, is the early 3-1 favorite off his San Diego win, which was his first since taking the San Pasqual Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita in January. Shirreffs has yet to saddle a Pacific Classic winner with limited starters and jockey Juan Hernandez makes his Pacific Classic debut.
Todd Pletcher, the Hall of Fame’s most recent inductee, has won a lot of million-dollar Grade 1’s in his career, but has yet to have a runner capture the Pacific Classic. This year he sends out St. Elias Stable’s Dr Post. The $400,000 son of Quality Road won the 9-furlong Monmouth Cup (G3) in mid-July with authority from off the pace. Joel Rosario, who rode Dr Post in his last race, will be aboard looking for his third Pacific Classic win having piloted Dullahan across the wire in front in 2012 and Accelerate in 2018.
John Sadler, who tightened the girth on Hronis Racing’s back-to-back winners Accelerate and Higher Power in 2018 and 2019, will be represented by the stable’s Tripoli in his second graded stakes start after finishing second last out in the San Diego Stakes. The son of Kitten’s Joy had been mostly a turf runner and allowance-level performer until his last two starts but has a win and a second since being moved to the dirt. Tiago Pereira has the call.
Lightly raced Magic On Tap stretches out beyond 1 1/16 miles for the first time for Baffert and owner/breeder Jane Lyons of Summer Wind Farm. Though this well-bred son of Tapit seems to prefer less distance, he’s bred to stretch out and his fifth in the San Diego is a toss since he never gained good early position after a bad break. Jockey Abel Cedillo is looking for his second consecutive Pacific Classic win after being aboard Maximum Security a year ago.
Independence Hall, trained by Michael McCarthy, is 5-1 on the morning line despite running and not winning in graded stakes starts this year. He did win his first start in California over this track for McCarthy, an allowance race, after being transferred from the East Coast so he has success here, which should help. Florent Geroux, who hasn’t won this race yet, takes over for regular rider Prat.
Former Claimer Cupid’s Claws was second in the Cougar II last out, but also won the 12-furlong Tokyo City Stakes (G3) and seems to like the dirt after a career of mostly turf until late last year. Craig Dollase trains the son of Kitten’s Joy and Umberto Rispoli will ride.
Sheriff Brown takes a giant step up in class for trainer Todd Fincher. He’s a good stakes-type horse, but not at this Grade 1 level. He does have an excuse for his last showing, a seventh in the San Diego. Fincher and jockey Edwin Maldonado both have yet to win a Pacific Classic.
The Pacific Classic is the 10th of 11 races with a post time of 6:30 p.m. PT.