There will not be any stars on the track Saturday for the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar. And that is good news for value-hunting bettors.
With a 10-horse field that is only a combined 3-for-41 in Grade 1 races, there is no obvious favorite for California’s biggest summertime race. That means it could deliver an unusually big payout for a chalky event that has gone seven years without a winner carrying odds longer than 3-1.
Last seen winning the Grade 2 Stephen Foster Stakes two months ago at Churchill Downs, 6-year-old Seeking The Soul (3-1) is shortest priced on the morning line. “My horse is doing good,” his trainer Dallas Stewart said. “He’s training good, and I expect a big race from him Saturday.”
In spite of Stewart’s public confidence, it is easy to make a case that Seeking The Soul will not be the top betting choice by post time Saturday at 9:30 p.m. EDT. Last year’s Foster winner Pavel (7-2) and this year’s Foster runner-up Quip (9-2) are also expected to attract their fair shares of the betting handle.
Yet there are long shots worth considering. John Sadler’s 4-year-old colt Campaign (6-1) is coming off a victory in last month’s 1½-mile Grade 3 Cougar II Handicap, the traditional Del Mar prep for the Pacific Classic. He closed successfully on a slow, early pace, a situation that may repeat itself Saturday.
“This horse is such a stayer,” Sadler said. “Even though he runs from way back, he can close even into a slow pace.”
Holding back his best horse Catalina Cruiser for next weekend’s Grade 2 Pat O’Brien Handicap, Sadler has also entered 4-year-old Higher Power (8-1) into the Pacific Classic. A three-time winner on the dirt for his previous trainer Michael Stidham, Higher Power was a close second last month’s Wickerr Stakes on the Del Mar turf. With the meet’s top jockey Flavien Prat getting the ride, he could figure into the setting of the early pace.
Like Campaign, the baffling 4-year-old colt Tenfold (8-1) was sired by Curlin and is best known for finishing a hard-charging third to Justify in the fog-bound 2018 Preakness. After winning the Grade 2 Pimlico Special in May, he came back with a listless, ninth-place performance in the Foster. Trained by Steve Asmussen, Tenfold will be ridden for the first time by Mike Smith. “Even though I’ve never been on the horse before, sometimes the first time I ride them is the time I get the most out of them,” he said. “I’m going to try.”
Then there is the Bob Baffert colt For The Top (12-1), a Southern Hemisphere 4-year-old that makes him the youngest horse in the field by three months. Before he finished a distant third in the Cougar, he was a Grade 1 winner in Argentina before he was transferred from trainer Gustavo Romero last winter. “I’m a long shot,” Baffert said. “I’d like to see the horse run well, and we’re keeping him on the dirt.”
It is hard to imagine Baffert, a five-time Pacific Classic winner, ever having a horse go off at 12-1 at Del Mar – or anywhere. It might also be hard for anyone who watched For The Top race in Argentina being sent forward so early in races as he has been the two times he has run for Baffert. This colt’s most impressive race was his deep-closing rail trip to a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Carlos Pellegrini on 1½ miles of sodden turf last December near Buenos Aires.
With the ever-dutiful Martín García riding Saturday, For The Top appears to be the sneaky, value play no matter what strategy he may employ cutting back from 1½ miles. My tickets will have him prominent underneath Campaign – with Quip and Pavel included, too.
So while this weekend’s Pacific Classic may not have a horse with the public heft of previous winners like Accelerate and California Chrome, it will provide an automatic berth into the Breeders’ Cup Classic up the road at Santa Anita. And who knows? This could be the springboard to yet another value play this fall.0
Racing news and opinions
Next Saturday’s $1.25 million Grade 1 Travers Stakes lost arguably the two biggest names among 3-year-olds when Game Winner and Maximum Security were withdrawn. Baffert reported a slight fever in Game Winner, last year’s champion 2-year-old that most recently won the Los Alamitos Derby. Trainer Jason Servis said that Maximum Security, the disqualified winner of the Kentucky Derby, was not at 100 percent and would skip next weekend at Saratoga in order to race next month in the Pennsylvania Derby. Both horses owned by Gary and Mary West were the shortest priced horses in futures betting for the Travers – not longer than 7-2 off shore and overseas. Preakness winner War Of Will and Arkansas Derby first-place finisher Omaha Beach were already being pointed away from the Travers, leaving Wood Memorial winner Tacitus as the new 4-1 favorite.
With trainer Chad Brown aiming undefeated Guarana to next month’s Cotillion Stakes in Pennsylvania, that leaves her stable mate Dunbar Road as the likely favorite for the $600,000 Grade 1 Alabama Stakes. Expected to race in mid-pack, the Mother Goose winner stands a cut above the other eight 3-year-old fillies in the 1¼-mile race Saturday at 5:59 p.m. EDT on Saratoga’s main track. She has also won in the rain, which is in the forecast. Point Of Honor, runner-up to Guarana in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks, figures to be a clear second choice coming from well off the early pace. The field also includes Lady Apple and Ulele, the top two finishers in the Iowa Oaks, and Street Band, winner of the Indiana Oaks. With fourth-place finishes in her last two races, Champagne Anyone does not appear able to keep up with this crowd. There is no obvious pace-setter; it might be Ulele. So my bets will be keyed to Dunbar Road on top with Point Of Honor boxed underneath with Lady Apple, Ulele and Street Band.
Sixteen trainers including Hall of Famers Shug McGaughey and Nick Zito signed an open letter last week in support of the Horseracing Integrity Act. That is a bipartisan bill in Congress that would create stricter federal rules on the use of drugs for racehorses. It was brought on by the 30 equine deaths during the winter and spring at Santa Anita “that have shaken public confidence in our sport and led to calls from the public and government authorities for major reform,” the letter said. The Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association is against the bill, which it considers an illusion of action rather than a cure for the many factors that caused the Santa Anita crisis. This reminds me of five years ago, when 25 trainers including McGaughey signed a letter in support of the elimination of Lasix. How did that work out?
Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column is posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com. It appears more frequently during coverage of big races. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. Three-time Eclipse Award winner Chad Brown talks about Bricks And Mortar, Sistercharlie, his sweep of the stakes on Arlington Million day and Dunbar Road, his filly that is favored to win Saturday’s Grade 1 Alabama Stakes at Saratoga. Brad Free of The Daily Racing Form handicaps the Pacific Classic and discusses the Del Mar summer. There is also Twitter feedback and a commentary about the World’s Best Racehorse rankings. The RFRP is also available via Apple, Google and Stitcher and at VSiN.com/podcasts.