By Margaret Ransom
Del Mar has put together an outstanding 11-race card Saturday with champion Maximum Security the headliner in a six-horse field for the 30th running of the $500,000 Pacific Classic (G1).
“He’s right on target for the race,’’ Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said earlier in the week after North America’s top-earning horse posted a final breeze before the 1 ¼-mile race – Del Mar’s signature event.
Pacific Classic Day will have a different look; no fans for one thing due to health and safety restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The lineup of races and intriguing betting options, though, will give fans and handicappers alike a day of topnotch competition.
Higher Power, who won the Pacific Classic last year but hasn’t won since, will challenge Maximum Security, along with Midcourt, who dueled with Maximum Security in the San Diego Handicap (G2), only to be beaten a nose at the wire.
The race is a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” event for the $6 million BC Classic (G1) at Keeneland on Nov. 7. In 2003, Pleasantly Perfect became the first Pacific Classic winner to go to win the Classic; Accelerate did it, too, in 2018
Among the notable winners are Hall of Famer Best Pal, who won the inaugural in 1991; Bertrando, two-time winner Tinners Way; Gentlemen, Free House, two-time winner Skimming, Lava Man; Game On Dude; Shared Belief, star mare Beholder, and California Chrome.
Perhaps the most memorable Pacific Classic was 1996, when Dare and Go upset the great Cigar, who came into the race with a modern-day record of 16 victories in a row.
Triple Crown winner Mike Smith and the late Garrett Gomez are tied for most Pac Classic wins with four apiece; and the late Bobby Frankel tops trainers win six wins.
Weather at Del Mar looks great, with sunny skies and a high in the mid-70s. Fast and firm all day is the surface condition scenario.
Gary and Mary West’s Maximum Security made his long-awaited return to racing in the San Diego Handicap last month and it was barely a contest despite the fact he only won by a nose. Normally one who prefers to set the pace, his rivals took him out of his game and made jockey Abel Cedillo rate for more than a half-mile, but he still managed to rally and get up in the lane for the win. The son of New Year’s Day certainly likes more distance and it can be argued 1 ¼ miles is his best. He’s had three pretty impressive works since his last race and is probably even more fit after the post-Saudi Cup (G1) layoff, so if he fires his best he won’t likely be beaten. Baffert comes into the race having saddled five winners.
C R K’s Midcourt gave everything he had to Maximum Security, threw him off his game and almost prevailed, only to get rundown in the lane after his frontrunning trip. The John Shirreffs trainee has a ton of heart and has been keeping his own with some of the best runners in his division, but his best performances have come at shorter distances. There’s little doubt he will be giving the favorite competition again for the early lead, but this son of Midnight Lute may hit the distance wall at the eighth pole. Hall of Famer Victor Espinoza will be back aboard.
Hronis Racing’s Higher Power returns having not won a race since capturing this one a year ago and after the shenanigans of the San Diego, it’s a good bet jockey Flavien Prat will let the 5-year-old run his own race, sit more mid-pack in the early going and wait for the speed to back up, if it’s going to back up. This John Sadler trainee never really turns in a bad race, aside from the Pegasus World Cup (G1) with no explanation, and has shown preference for more distance. He has faced (and even defeated) some of the best in his division and will need his ‘A’ game for a win, but he’s home in Del Mar and stranger things have happened. He could also be a third consecutive winner in the race for his owners and trainer.
Multiple Argentine Group 1 winner Mirinaque makes his North American debut and the 4-year-old son of Hurricane Cat has been here for over a month training at Del Mar in preparation for this race and is trained by his 44-year-old owner, Maria Nunos, who comes from a racing family that includes her trainer father and grandfather, as well as a jockey mother.
“She came here before to see the Pacific Classic and decided that one day she wanted to have a horse in the race,” trainer Carlos Lopez, acting as a translator, said. “After many years, that dream is coming true.”
Local jockey Tiago Periera will ride Mirinaque.
Dark Vader is coming off a nice second-level allowance win over this track a month ago and while he’s put in some good showings in stakes company, he has yet to win a black-type event. This distance may be a touch taxing for this Pete Eurton-trained son of Tale of Ekati, but his connections roll the dice anyway. Umberto Rispoli, who is battling for leading rider honors, returns.
The connections of Sharp Samurai, who was second in the Eddie Read (G2) a month ago, chose an awfully ambitious spot to return to the dirt, but he’s a good horse and if he puts in his best, he could be competitive. He’s probably going to scratch, however.
Post time for the Pacific Classic is 6:30 p.m. PT.
Also on the card are the $200,000 Del Mar Handicap (1 1/8 miles on the turf) with an 11-horse featuring Richard Mandella-trained United – 3-for-3 in 2020 and Santa Anita Handicap (G1) winner Combatant; and the $250,000 Del Mar Oaks for 3-year-old fillies going 1 1/8 miles on the turf.