Del Mar presents the Bobby Frankel Classic, better known as the Pacific Classic, on Aug. 24. Ron McAnally hopes he has the horse that can loosen Frankel’s stranglehold on Del Mar’s marquee race.
But since Frankel has won six of the 12 runnings of the $1 million race, and has two solid contenders this year in Milwaukee Brew and Peace Rules, calling the race the Frankel Classic is not a reach. McAnally, who has never won the race in eight attempts, is banking on an undefeated Argentine-bred colt named Candy Ride to get off the schneid.
"So far, he’s done everything right," McAnally said of the 4-year-old son of Ride the Rails, whose five consecutive victories include the American Handicap at Hollywood Park by three-quarters of a length over Special Ring, who came back to win the Eddie Read in impressive fashion.
McAnally knows a top horse when he sees one, and the 71-year-old trainer has seen plenty in a career of more than four decades. John Henry, Horse of the Year in 1981 and 1984, and distaff champions Bayakoa and Paseana, come quickest to mind. McAnally, a member of racing’s Hall of Fame since 1990, is not given to unqualified praise, but he has mentioned Candy Ride in the same breath as John Henry.
"He moves like a Swiss watch," McAnally said of Candy Ride, who won his three starts in South America by a combined margin of 28 lengths before winning his first two United States starts at Hollywood in June and July. "Everything with this horse is smooth. I think he’s a good horse, what else can I say? But it’s too early to tell (if he’s as good as John Henry, Bayakoa or Paseana).
"You take a race at a time and build up. When John Henry came to me, as an example, he was an ordinary-looking horse. He kept getting more popular race by race, and that’s how it could be with Candy Ride. I could stand here all day and tell you how great he is, but he’s got to prove it on the track."
It’s not easy to knock perfection, but McAnally realizes that Candy Ride’s class remains in question. Winning the Pacific Classic, a Grade I race at a mile and quarter, would provide an answer owners Sid and Jenny Craig have been seeking for more than a decade. Residents of Del Mar, the Craigs have tried twice to win the Pacific Classic, failing both times. They supplemented Paseana in 1992 at a cost of $30,000 in 1992, but the 5-year-old mare finished fifth as the 17-10 favorite behind 24-1 outsider Missionary Ridge, saddled by Frankel. The Craigs’ Smile Again ran sixth behind General Challenge in 1999.
There’s a long road ahead before the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Oct. 25, and Candy Ride is not Breeders’ Cup-eligible. He would have to be supplemented at the exorbitant price of $800,000.
"Knowing the Craigs, they pay their dues," McAnally said. "They’ve tried to win the Pacific Classic for several years. They paid a lot of money for different horses at different times. Hopefully, it will come through this time."
Tom Robbins, Del Mar’s vice president of racing and racing secretary, expects as few as four horses for the Classic, namely back-to-back Santa Anita Handicap winner Milwaukee Brew and Haskell Invitational winner Peace Rules, Kudos, winner of The Californian, and Candy Ride. If the field stays in tact, Peace Rules should have a very favorable pace scenario and give Frankel another Pacific Classic victory.
"Maybe we can sweeten it up a little bit and get a few more horses in the race," said Robbins, who was not of the opinion that this year’s handicap division is one of the strongest in years.
"I’d say it’s about average," he said. "I’m not sure it’s any deeper or weaker than in the recent past."
One thing that’s improved is Del Mar’s success. A record opening day crowd of 40,682 got the meet off to a rousing start. After two weeks, on-track attendance was up more than 13 percent from last year, while on-track handle increased nearly two percent. The racing is solid and the setting nothing short of spectacular. Watching glistening thoroughbreds enter the picturesque paddock, which is beautifully bedecked with colorful flowers behind a lush, green landscape under clear blue skies, borders on the surreal.
"I think it’s a combination of things," Robbins said of Del Mar’s prosperity. "It’s a short meet (43 days) and it’s the time of the year where owners want to be here. It’s 100 yards from the Pacific Ocean, it’s a great spot, the purses are strong and it’s an attractive program. And it doesn’t hurt to have large and enthusiastic crowds. Owners and horsemen want to be a part of it."