Pacific Classic scouting report
Sunday, Sept. 6, Del Mar
The Low-Down: Say what you want about synthetic tracks and the dearth of talent in the older handicap division, but then realize we've seen 13 horses in the Santa Anita Handicap, 13 in the Hollywood Gold Cup and now 12 in the Pacific Classic. Track management in any area of the country would give anything for numbers like that when the spotlight is brightest. This field, top to bottom, is exceptional: 2 Hollywood Gold Cup champs, a Santa Anita Handicap champ, a Travers winner, a Santa Anita Derby winner, a Dixie winner, the past 2 Swaps winners, and a Breeders' Cup Classic-placed runner.
Six-time Pacific Classic winner Bobby Frankel looks for lucky No. 7 and will be the sentimental entrant with capable Mast Track. The Hall of Fame trainer continues to battle an unpublicized illness that has kept him from the barn area for an extended period, and it would be a fitting pick-me-up to see the horse he owns and trains find the winner's circle in a race that Frankel has defined since its inception.
Our Eyes: Older horses all carry 124 pounds on Sunday, a key point compared to the Big 'Cap and Gold Cup. Most of the Pacific Classic players are being asked to tote 7-10 pounds more than in those big heats earlier this year. Two horses accustomed to toting the heavy groceries are Einstein and Colonel John, both winners at 1 1/4 miles who will weather the weight impost. Both also have stalking, mid-pack running styles that should benefit from a moderate to above-average pace that's expected from this eye.
But closer inspection of Einstein's Big 'Cap victory in March shows me a horse floundering late with a :26-plus final quarter-mile and a bevy of horses gaining his measure as the wire neared. He didn't appear to be the same horse in the Arlington Million after a battered trip in the Stephen Foster that would have made Rocky Balboa wince. I'll take my stand here and work around Einstein.
It's intriguing to see what trainers have done since the Gold Cup. Both Mast Track and Song of Navarone, for instance, have had only three workouts since that July 11 race. And it ranges all the way to Global Hunter, who has had two graded-stakes races and four drills since the Gold Cup. Quite a difference in where each horse figures to be in their form cycles and fitness. Parading has had five solid workouts, but also has made a cross-country, round-trip flight in the process.
You can't watch the Gold Cup video and think anything but that Rail Trip was far superior to anything on that racetrack. Perfect trip or not, he made the trip and delivered a serious knockout punch that was visually stunning the way he strode out to the wire. The $1 million question is can he run that well on the Polytrack at Del Mar, a surface foreign to him in the p.m. Runner-up Tres Borrachos galloped out like a total beast in the Gold Cup and didn't back up; he just couldn't accelerate with the winner. 'Tres' deserves your utmost attention in the re-match, but picks up 10 pounds off the Gold Cup and totes 11 more than in his signature Swaps win last summer. He also has a surface question here in his Del Mar debut.
Colonel John was phenomenal in his Wickerr Stakes win July 31, a score that looks even better since Ferneley came back to win the Grade 2 Del Mar Mile. Informed lost a ton of ground in the Gold Cup and returns to a track that he always fires over. He beat Rail Trip in the Californian, draws the rail today and will run his race. Global Hunter is really good right now at any trip and is light years better at Del Mar than he showed in the Gold Cup.
The Bottom Line: Colonel John and Rail Trip make all the sense, and the odds horses needed to register a nice return are Informed, Tres Borrachos and Global Hunter. I'll key the 2 favorites on top of the 3 prices plays second in both the exactas and trifectas, pressing that "all button" in the bottom of the trifecta.
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