If Accelerate is the rising star among older horses, then the Pacific Classic may be just a formality this weekend at Del Mar.
But bettors know better.
Weren’t we down this road last year with Arrogate? Wasn’t he supposed to rebound from his only loss and cruise right through this race?
Things don’t always work out the way they are supposed to on the racetrack, so value players looking elsewhere will be hoping the public pounds Accelerate (8-5), the morning-line favorite to win the $1 million Grade 1 race Saturday at 6:43 p.m. PDT.
“You’d rather be the favorite than not,” said trainer John Sadler, who decided to bring Accelerate back into this 1¼-mile dirt race instead of his impressive but lightly raced colt Catalina Cruiser.
After finishing third to Collected and Arrogate last summer, the 5-year-old Accelerate has won three of his last four including the Big ’Cap and the Gold Cup, both at Santa Anita, before getting a couple months off.
The biggest question for Accelerate on Saturday is whether he will get the desired trip near the front under substitute jockey Joel Rosario, who comes west to replace the injured Víctor Espinoza. Seven of the eight horses in the field would not be uncomfortable on the lead, and they may form a crowd to chase it.
A late entry into the race, the speed horse Dr. Dorr (6-1) fits the profile of four of the last seven Pacific Classic winners, including the last two. “He actually worked really well (Tuesday), so I threw him in there,” said trainer Bob Baffert, whose wife, Jill, owns the 5-year-old gelding.
Dr. Dorr was second in the San Diego Handicap, but he finished 6¾ lengths behind Catalina Cruiser. This time he figures to be on the early lead and, breaking from post position 2 under jockey Joe Talamo, he could hold the key to the whole race. “He drew a little inside,” Baffert told the Del Mar public-relations team, “but that’s OK.”
Baffert’s second horse is – surprise – not Lone Star Handicap runner-up Mubtaahij. “He got a little tired, and I missed some training with him, so I wasn’t comfortable with him going a mile-and-a-quarter,” he said.
Instead, Baffert has brought in Roman Rosso (5-1), an impressive-looking horse from South America that found an extra gear in March to win the Group 1 Gran Premio Latinoamericano in Uruguay. Flavien Prat will ride Roman Rosso’s North American debut. The colt just turned 4 this month since he was bred south of the Equator. “He has trained really well, but I really don’t know how he fits in,” Baffert said. “We’ll find out.”
Even though Roman Rosso appears to be the mystery horse, Pavel (7-2) is on the mystery tour. All set to be shipped east two weeks ago for the Whitney Stakes at Saratoga, trainer Doug O’Neill abruptly changed plans after an encouraging workout and decided to keep the Stephen Foster winner at home. On Saturday, Pavel will break from post 7 with Mario Gutiérrez riding. “We won from the outside in the Stephen Foster,” O’Neill said. “We kind of like him out there.”
But Pavel’s only time racing at Del Mar was last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, and he finished next to last, begging the question is this the best spot for a 4-year-old colt that seems better suited for road games?
If there is one horse poised to pounce on a disintegration of the front-end speed, it is The Lieutenant (6-1), the only true closer in the field. Sired by Street Sense out of a Ghostzapper broodmare, the 5-year-old horse ridden by Drayden Van Dyke and trained by Mike McCarthy makes his Grade 1 debut after finishing a distant second to Diversify in last month’s Grade 2 Suburban at Belmont Park.
“I’m not concerned going a mile-and-a-quarter from the ‘1’ hole,” McCarthy said. “The horse is very tractable, and we’ll go ahead and get a nice, stalking trip.”
Prime Attraction (8-1), 2-for-2 on Del Mar dirt; Beach View (15-1), the Cougar II Handicap winner over 1½ miles of the same course; and Two Thirty Five (20-1), fourth in the San Diego Handicap, make up the rest of the field for the race that will qualify the winner for the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
The eight horses will each carry 124 pounds, and with Accelerate breaking from post 5, Sadler sounded optimistic. “I felt he could handle any (post) going a mile-and-a-quarter. We’re excited going into the race.”
The feeling here is that Baffert may have found another diamond in the rough with Roman Rosso, and he is the pick over The Lieutenant, Accelerate and Prime Attraction. But if the track comes up with a speed bias, Dr. Dorr is not to be ignored.
Racing notes and opinions
With division leader Monomoy Girl being aimed at next month’s Cotillion Stakes at Parx and Wonder Gadot taking on the boys next week in the Travers, it looks like Midnight Bisou (7-5) may have her way at Saratoga in the $600,000 Grade 1 Alabama Stakes, the first chance for eight 3-year-old fillies to go 1¼ miles. “That extra eighth of a mile is a big difference,” her jockey Mike Smith told VSiN. “She’s going into the race very well or they wouldn’t be running her back in it. She should be able to handle it.” Trained by Steve Asmussen, Midnight Bisou was second to Kentucky Oaks winner Monomoy Girl in last month’s Coaching Club American Oaks, also at Saratoga. “She got the best of me that day,” Smith said. “We ran back pretty quick (after winning the Mother Goose on June 30). It might have been just a little quick.” Indiana Oaks winner Talk Veuve To Me (5-2) and another Asmussen filly – Iowa Oaks winner She’s A Julie (9-2) – are also in the Alabama, which has a scheduled post time of 5:40 p.m. EDT Saturday.
Winx (1-5), the world’s top-ranked racehorse, returns from a four-month break to go for her 26th consecutive victory this weekend. Just turned 7, she will be racing against the boys in the $362,693 Group 1 Winx Stakes, a seven-furlong turf sprint at Randwick in Sydney. Before it was named for her, this was the Warwick Stakes race in which Winx was left at the gate last year before she used her characteristic closing speed to win it. The stalking Godolphin 4-year-old Kementari (7-1) is the best of the rest of the 11-horse field. He finished third to Winx five months ago in the Group 1 George Ryder but is coming in race-ready, having finished second two weeks ago in the Group 2 Missile at Randwick. The best advice for ADW bettors in the U.S. is either a cold exacta for a short price on Winx over Kementari, a place bet instead of a win bet since they will both probably pay $2.10, or just stay away from pushing “Submit” and enjoy watching modern-day greatness. The Winx Stakes starts Saturday at 1 a.m. EDT; Friday at 10 p.m. PDT.
One of the worst-kept secrets in horse racing will be confirmed Friday when the Breeders’ Cup announces Santa Anita (2019), Keeneland (2020) and Del Mar (2021) as hosts of the annual championships after they take their turn this fall at Churchill Downs. The story was first reported by the Los Angeles Times. This continues the California-Kentucky pattern that has not been broken since the Breeders’ Cup was conducted as a regatta in 2007 during a stormy week at Monmouth Park. The next best chance for the meet to be held elsewhere may be after Laurel Park finishes its renovations – or if Belmont Park is nominated after a new development is built there around the Islanders’ new arena.
Ron Flatter’s racing column is posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com. There will also be a column after Saturday’s Pacific Classic. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod, also posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. This week Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith discusses Justify, Roadster, the Pacific Classic and his ride Saturday on Midnight Bisou in the Alabama Stakes at Saratoga. Shane Anderson, editor-in-chief of the Australian multimedia platform Racing.com, previews Winx’s return to the track this weekend in Sydney and compares and contrasts Australian and American racing cultures. The podcast also features a horse-by-horse preview of the Pacific Classic. The RFRP is also available at leading providers such as Apple Podcasts, Google Play Podcasts and Stitcher.