The Breeders’ Cup prep season gets intense this weekend. Saturday’s card at Del Mar features three graded stakes races, all of which are Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In. The marquee race, the Pacific Classic (GI), awards its winner with a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. A ticket to the Turf awaits the winner of the Del Mar Handicap (GII), and whoever prevails in the Pat O’Brien (GII) has an automatic slot in the Dirt Mile.
Del Mar is not the only track with stakes action on Saturday. On the local front, Paul Mazur previews Saturday’s Arlington-Washington Futurity (GIII). Out east, Paul also previews the Alabama Stakes (GI) and the Troy Stakes at Saratoga.
Free live streaming video of these races, as well as all races from Del Mar, are available at Cal Racing. The Horse Racing Radio Network website will also stream coverage of Del Mar live from 4:30pm-6:30pm PDT.
Morning lines were not available for the Pat O’Brien or the Del Mar Handicap at original publish time. Selections for the Del Mar Handicap are for turf only. All races discussed here are scheduled for Saturday August 22.
Updated on August 20th to include pre-scratch morning lines in all races. Updated August 22 to reflect scratches of TURNOVER from the Pat O’Brien and FINNEGANS WAKE from the Del Mar Handicap.
Race 4: Pat O’Brien Stakes (GII), three-year-olds and up, seven furlongs on the dirt, post time 3:40pm PDT
This year marks the thirtieth running of the Pat O’Brien Stakes. The race’s namesake was an actor through much of the twentieth century, as well as one of the co-founders of Del Mar Racetrack. It has always been run at seven furlongs on the Del Mar man track; this year, it will be run on dirt for the first time since Polytrack was installed in 2007. In addition to the lion’s share of a $250,000 purse, the winner also receives a Win and You’re In berth to the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. The dirt mile has only been run eight times before, and last year was the first time a horse parlayed a win in the Pat O’Brien through to a win in the Dirt Mile. Goldencents swept the two races last year. However, Goldencents was not the only horse to win the Pat O’Brien, and then go on to Breeders’ Cup glory. In 1996, Alphabet Soup annexed this race, and then went on to upset the mighty Cigar in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Lit de Justice (1995) was only third in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint later that year, but came back to invert things the next year: he was 3rd in the 1996 Pat O’Brien, but won the BC Sprint.
With the scratch of TURNOVER, the Pat O’Brien field contains just four horses this year. TURNOVER was one of the possible speeds, leaving just APPEALING TALE and INDEXICAL. Speed is such a strong weapon in a short field that it is hard to count out either of these; between the two, APPEALING TALE appeals more. He cuts back to seven furlongs after a game outing last out: a mile and a sixteenth on a contested lead in the San Diego Handicap (GII), in which he was just eclipsed by Catch a Flight. Two starts back he went seven furlongs in the Triple Bend (GI), but could not quite catch Masochistic. In that race, he was a bit farther off the pace than he prefers to be. If he is up closer here, even with some contention from INDEXICAL, he should be game enough to be around late. INDEXICAL, the rare Reddam Racing horse not trained by Doug O’Neill, comes in second off a two-month layoff, and absolutely danced against allowance company on July 19. His early pace suggests he can easily keep APPEALING TALE in range. Though class remains mostly a question, he does have a third last year in the Triple Bend (GI) at this distance. He also has two wins over the Del Mar course. Conditioner Ben Cecil is also having a pretty solid Del Mar meet, despite limited starts — with nine starts, he has gotten his picture taken three times, including that allowance win with INDEXICAL. With regular rider Mario Gutierrez back in the irons, as a ratable yet speedy type in a now four-horse field, INDEXICAL may be the value here.
Between the two off-pace types, KOBE’S BACK and WILD DUDE, this space sides with the better seven-furlong horse: KOBE’S BACK. This four-year-old colt still has not quite figured out how to break well, but all three of his starts at sprint distances this year have been sharp. Even last out, when he was third, he was just too far out of it late, going six furlongs against WILD DUDE and Masochistic. He stretches to seven here, a distance at which he is 7-2-2-1. With a better setup here, as well as a better distance, KOBE’S BACK should have a shot.
#2 APPEALING TALE (8/5)
#4 INDEXICAL (5/1)
#5 KOBE’S BACK (3/1)
Longshot: I tried to find the longshot writer, but they’re still too busy celebrating The Pizza Man’s win in the Arlington Million.
Race 8: Del Mar Handicap (GII), three-year-olds and up, one and three eighths miles on the turf, post time 5:40pm PDT
The race has been consistently run at 1 3/8 miles on the turf since 1986, though through its history it has been run at distances as short as 1 1/16 miles, and as long as its current distance. It has been on grass for most of its history, though between 1976 and 1985 it was a classic-division handicap race: about a mile and a quarter on the dirt. This year’s Del Mar Handicap offers a purse of $250,000, as well as a Win and You’re In berth to the Breeders’ Cup Turf for the winning horse. To date, the Del Mar Handicap has not produced a Breeders’ Cup Turf winner. This year, Big John B will attempt to become the sixth horse to win the Del Mar Handicap twice, after Frankly (1948, 1950), Arrogate (1955, 1956), How Now (1957, 1960), Navarone (1992, 1994), and Spring House (2008, 2009).
Spring House closes to win his second Del Mar Handicap by a nose in 2009.
DANAS BEST makes his second stateside start here. He was finding his stride as a stayer in Australia, having achieved his first stakes-level victory there in January in the mile and a half Australia Day Cup. However, he bled after that race, the second time he had done so after a race. That necessitated his shipping out to the United States. Last out, going first-time Lasix in allowance company, DANAS BEST acquitted himself well. Though he finished fifth, he was just three quarters of a length behind winner LITTLE JERRY. He fired well from midpack, and showed an ability to handle the firm turf. Here, LITTLE JERRY is the only real speed horse, but his ability to stay a mile and three eighths against this class of company is questionable at best. DANAS BEST showed down under that he could run well on the pace, near it, or midpack. He should be one of the few in the field to keep LITTLE JERRY well in his sights early, and has already proved that he has the staying power to get at least a mile and three eighths. That allowance last out was just too short for him — a mile and a sixteenth — and this race second off the lay should get DANAS BEST back to his best.
ASHLEYLUVSSUGAR replaced FINNEGANS WAKE as the current king of the mountain in the West Coast turf division, taking the San Luis Rey (GII) and the Charles Whittingham (GII) earlier this year, both at a mile and a half. He shipped east for the United Nations (GI) at Del Mar, but did not fire. He faced tougher stuff there, and ships back to face easier here. His speeds compare very well with this field, and pacewise he should be well set. Though LITTLE JERRY is the only true speed horse in this field, ASHLEYLUVSSUGAR has shown in some of his past races that he can succeed from near the pace. Even if he settles a few lengths back, his middle pace figures suggest can start a long, sustained run relatively early, making him unlikely to have a “too little, too late” situation down the stretch. Trainer Peter Eurton’s record at Del Mar this meet (36-1-6-3) gives a bit of pause, but Gary Stevens has been finding his best form of the Del Mar meet of late.
POWER PED comes into this race third off a layoff, and stretches to the longest distance of his career. He did try a mile and a quarter three starts back in the San Marcos (GII), and though he was fourth, that start was encouraging. He rallied from well off the pace, was still closing ground late, and crossed the wire third. (He was promoted to second due to a disqualification that did not involve him.) That suggests the extra furlong today could be good for POWER PED. Though he was well off the pace in that race, he has also shown good form closer to the pace, helpful in a race with so little speed. That seems likely as he gets a rider change back to Tyler Baze, who tended to ride POWER PED a bit closer in when riding last year.
#9 DANAS BEST (10/1)
#1 ASHLEYLUVSSUGAR (3/1)
#6 POWER PED (12/1)
Longshot: #7 LIDERIS (20/1) has missed the board in all six starts stateside, but gets a key change to trainer Doug O’Neill. Everything O’Neill has touched at Del Mar has turned to gold this meet. LIDERIS is by Mizzen Mast out of a Dynaformer mare, suggesting that he will like turf, and suggesting (particularly underneath) that he will appreciate the stretch out. Back in Peru, he won on dirt going as long as a mile and a half. He has 0nly tried the grass once, and never since shipping stateside, making this a change worth trying to make. He should be one of the longest shots on the board. Of course, class still remains a question, since he has not yet proven that he is stakes-level in the US as he was in Peru. However, with LIDERIS making all the right changes here, he comes in with enough upside for the price.
Race 9: TVG Pacific Classic Stakes (GI), three-year-olds and up, one and one fourth miles on the dirt, post time 6:10pm PDT
Saturday will mark the 25th renewal of the Pacific Classic, Del Mar’s marquee race for the handicap division. The race has always been contested at a mile and a quarter over the Del Mar main, though it was run on polytrack from 2007 through 2014. This year, it returns to dirt. The spoils of victory include the largest share of a $1,000,000 purse as well as a Win and You’re In berth into the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland. Thus far, no winner of the Pacific Classic has gone on to win the BC Classic in the same year. Pleasantly Perfect (2004), however, had already won the BC Classic the year before. Bertrando (1993) finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic that same year, overtaken late by 133/1 longshot Arcangues.
Pleasantly Perfect, the only horse to win both the Pacific Classic and the Breeders’ Cup Classic, wins the 2004 Pacific Classic.
The question of the day is: will anyone want to send with BAYERN early? Both BEHOLDER and MIDNIGHT STORM have shown early speed as well, but both have also shown an ability to run well from a stalking spot. Going a mile and a quarter on the dirt, sending against BAYERN early sounds like a game of chicken that no one is going to win, so this space is going to endorse the idea that not even MIDNIGHT STORM will be so self-sacrificial. This makes BAYERN dangerous. After firing duds in the Churchill Downs (GII) and the Met Mile (GI) earlier this year, BAYERN showed signs of life in the San Diego (GII) last out. He sent, but so did the speedy Appealing Tale. Though he drops back to third, that race was only at a mile and a sixteenth. The stretch out to the Classic distance should require runners to be more tactical — and that could allow BAYERN to get away, similarly to how he did in the Breeders’ Cup Classic when he no longer had Moreno to worry about. Finally, given his recent form lines, BAYERN will be overlaid.
RED VINE steps up to the Classic distance on dirt for the first time. He comes off of a second-place finish against easier in the Salvator Mile (GIII), that came behind Bradester — a Monmouth-loving speed horse on a speed-loving Monmouth oval. Since then, he has a solid pattern of works. The Christophe Clement trainee ships west for this race, a move that this 23% shipper trainer would not make lightly. Though this will be the biggest class test of his career to date, there are suggestions aside from trainer intent that suggest he should pass. He runs a stalking to midpack style, with middle and late pace that compares well with his competition. It is not a stretch to think that a son of Candy Ride can win at a mile and a quarter: Candy Ride himself won this race in 2006, and Shared Belief (a Candy Ride son) won it last year. RED VINE looks well meant here, and should be a square price with more familiar names in the field.
Much of the rest of the field is the same familiar West Coast handicap set: HOPPERTUNITY, CATCH A FLIGHT, HARD ACES, IMPERATIVE. HOPPERTUNITY is intriguing due to his consistency, and the fact that Martin Garcia takes the call on him instead of BAYERN. However, he often enough finds a way to finish second that he is hard to trust on top. The barn change could bring a bit of life to IMPERATIVE, but this still seems a tough field for him. CATCH A FLIGHT and HARD ACES are solid handicap horses, but may have a bit too much to do late if BAYERN gets his way on the front end. Instead, a different west coaster has a bit more appeal: BEHOLDER. She is a mare facing the boys, but trainer Richard Mandella is not typically given to pie-in-the-sky placements. His mare fits. She is typically near the lead, but is not a need-the-lead type — something necessary with BAYERN in the field. She shows up consistently, and the only really subpar race she has run in recent memory was the Ogden Phipps (GI) last year. There, she was well off the pace compared to where she likes to be. As long as BEHOLDER breaks well and gets into a stalking spot, she should be able to run her race. The biggest question is the distance. She has never gone past a mile and an eighth before, and her pedigree does not necessarily scream it. However, given her recent form and speed, as well as the fact that this race does not abound with speed, it appears that Mandella found a good place to try his mare against the handicap division.
#3 BAYERN (6/1)
#5 RED VINE (6/1)
#9 BEHOLDER (5/2)
Longshot: Last year, Mike Smith won the Pacific Classic on a clear favourite, Shared Belief. This year, he returns in the irons with a long shot: #1 CLASS LEADER (15/1). He has made a history of coming close-but-no-cigar since his win in the Sir Barton last May, but his last start was encouraging. Well off the pace over a sloppy, speed-friendly Indiana Grand track, he motored home to finished third beaten only 3/4 length by Ulanbator in the Michael G. Schaefer Memorial Stakes. That race was only at a mile and seventy yards, and the longest he has tried to date was the mile and an eighth of last year’s Illinois Derby (GIII). However, the stretch to a mile and a quarter should suit CLASS LEADER, breeding-wise. He is by Smart Strike, the sire of long-winded types like Curlin and English Channel. He is out of Class Kris, who produced 2007 Pacific Classic winner Student Council. His humans have been firing on all cylinders this meet, too. CLASS LEADER has moved to the John Sadler barn, and Sadler has won at 28% this Del Mar meet. He also gets the services of top stakes rider Mike Smith, who has won at a solid 18% this meet. CLASS LEADER will have to improve significantly to beat this set, and his closing style could leave him with a tall order late. Still, he fires consistently enough and is bred well enough for the distance that he could at least be the bomb for exotics.
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