”” Old racing axiom.
Racing’s oldest adage is also its truest.
Find a race with a single speed horse, and chances are that horse is the winner. Conversely, tab a race in which several speed horses figure to burn themselves out, and the winner is likely to come from off the pace.
That said, Sunday’s $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar favors a horse like Milwaukee Brew, a stretch runner that will try to give trainer Bobby Frankel his seventh win in 12 runnings of the seaside track’s marquee event.
With established front-runners War Emblem, Came Home and Sky Jack pointing to the mile and one quarter race, the Pacific Classic seems assured a spirited battle on the front end.
But not necessarily, says Doug O’Neill, the 42-year-old trainer who came of age when he saddled Sky Jack to a courageous nose victory in the Hollywood Gold Cup.
"I don’t think he has to be in front to win," the Dearborn, Michigan, native said of Sky Jack, who won the 11/4-mile Gold Cup wire-to-wire despite being pressured throughout by Momentum, another Pacific Classic contender. "Laffit (Pincay Jr.) has said that he doesn’t think the horse necessarily needs the lead, either. It will be Laffit’s job to figure out how the pace scenario’s going to play out."
Whatever the strategy, O’Neill is not seeking a suicidal fight for the lead.
"I know what we did in the Big ”˜Cap definitely won’t work, when we tried to go head and head with Western Pride for a little ways, even though I’d run Sky Jack back kind of quickly in that race," O’Neill said. Sky Jack finished 14th and last behind runaway winner Milwaukee Brew. "But even on his best day, I don’t know if Sky Jack wants to go head and head in that type of pace, because they were really flying."
Even though Sky Jack won the Gold Cup at a mile and a quarter, O’Neill admits such a distance is far from ideal for the gray California-bred, unless he encounters a paceless race, as he did in the Gold Cup.
"I don’t say a whole lot to Laffit when he rides our horses, but if we get to that point and there is a lot of other speed in the race, I’m sure we’ll talk about trying not to use him up too much early," O’Neill said.
As far as older horses such as Sky Jack facing 3-year-olds War Emblem and Came Home, O’Neill thinks experience and quality of competition give Sky Jack an edge.
"I would think an older horse would have an advantage, even at this (late) time of the year," he said. "War Emblem and Came Home have only been facing their own age group and it’s a whole different ball game when you start facing older horses, who are more seasoned, more experienced, more relaxed and more mature. My horse is a good example of that. When I had him as a 3-year-old, he was real erratic, and would try to duck in and out down the lane. It took him a while to figure out what was going on.
"Three year olds running against older horses is difficult to gauge, just like class. You wonder how a $10,000 horse can go 1:09, yet can’t compete in allowance company. If you see horses in a pasture, it’s amazing how quickly the pecking order begins, and I think there’s something to that even before the races when they’re in the paddock, kind of sizing each other up a little bit, and even when they get in the gate. Maybe older horses have more class, more experience, but that’s not to say a 3-year-old couldn’t win the Classic. But I would think if you had two evenly matched horses, the older horse would have the advantage."
Meanwhile, O’Neill has the utmost respect for Frankel and his remarkable record in the Pacific Classic.
"He’s a great trainer and usually has fresh horses coming into this race, which definitely helps, too," O’Neill said. "That’s one disadvantage on our end. Sky Jack is only coming into this race with six weeks off. But I think the biggest reason for Frankel’s success in the race is timing."
Initially, Frankel planned to run second-stringer Euchre in the Classic. But with a rapid pace imminent, Frankel opted for the Classic with Milwaukee Brew.
"I would do the same thing if I were him if the pace shapes up like it seems," O’Neill said of Frankel’s change in plans. "I would think a horse like Milwaukee Brew would have a huge chance."
THE HOMESTRETCH: Richard Mulhall, racing manager for The Thoroughbred Corp., which owns War Emblem, said there still was a chance the dark bay colt would skip the Classic and run in Saturday’s Travers against fellow 3-year-old Medaglia d’Oro. Mulhall added that Officer remains at the stable’s Bradbury farm recovering from an ankle injury suffered after the April 7 Zany Tactics, and said there was no comeback race in mind for the stakes-winning filly Habibti, who has had three short workouts since returning to Bob Baffert’s barn . . . Neil Drysdale says Sunday Break, third in the Belmont behind 70-1 Sarava, "is resting (at Hollywood Park) and will be out for a bit." Flying Dash,Drysdale 3-year-old whose profile is lower than Sunday Break’s, is being pointed to the Sept. 7 Del Mar Derby at 11/8 miles on the turf . . . Siphonic, a serious Triple Crown candidate before suffering an ankle injury last March, had his first three-furlong workout at Del Mar on Aug. 6. "He worked in :354/5 and galloped out (a half mile) in :48," trainer David Hofmans said. "He had gone a couple of quarter-miles since returning, but this was his first three-eighths. I would think Del Mar would be too soon for his comeback race. We’ll have to wait till Oak Tree." . . . At the Thoroughbred Owners of California’s Aug. 15 meeting, TOC president John Van de Camp reported he and other industry leaders are putting together a workmen’s compensation package that should roll back rates to about what they were before this year’s prohibitive cost increases. Van de Camp hopes the plan becomes effective on Sept. 1.