Pacific Classic lacking the usual buzz but could prove a great race

Aug 14, 2018 3:00 AM

This is Pacific Classic week at Del Mar. Since 1991, when Best Pal won the inaugural Pacific Classic, the Grade I event has been the highlight of each summer meet at Del Mar and the associated buzz surrounding the event has matched the status of the race.

Last year, the big question was: Can Dubai World Cup, Breeders Cup Classic, and Pegasus World Invitational winner Arrogate rebound from a poor prep in the 2017 San Diego Handicap? The answer was no when stablemate Collected won the Pacific Classic for trainer Bob Baffert. Arrogate showed his complete disdain for the Del Mar dirt by again tossing in a clunker in last year’s Breeders Cup Classic.

In 2016, the discussion was: Can California Chrome get back to his best form after a debacle of an experiment going to Europe? He answered in the affirmative with a powerful win in the Pacific Classic.

And remember 2015? Can the mare Beholder beat the boys? The answer was an emphatic yes when she took her game to a new level, dominating the boys in the Pacific Classic.

What is the buzz for this Saturday’s 2018 edition? To be honest, it has been unusually quiet.

The leading contender when entries are drawn on Tuesday figures to be Accelerate from the John Sadler stable. He is a deserving favorite, too, having already won the Santa Anita Handicap and the Gold Cup at Santa Anita this year at the Pacific Classic distance of 1-1/4 miles. But he just doesn’t have the star power or fan base of Arrogate, California Chrome, or Beholder.

The probable challengers include: Beach View, who won the Cougar II earlier in the meet; The Lieutenant, now best known as the half-brother to the recently retired Triple Crown winner Justify; Pavel, who on his best day is very good but has also been known to disappear at times; Mubtaahij, who might be considered part of trainer Bob Baffert’s “B” team; his new stablemate/import Roman Rosso; and longshot Prime Attraction.

Without any shippers from the east or his exciting stablemate Catalina Cruiser likely to compete, Accelerate looks like strictly the one to beat in the $1 million race. Will San Diego race fans drop everything and make sure not to miss it? Doubtful, unless the filly Unique Bella, who is nominated to the race, is a surprise entrant on Tuesday.

Del Mar and Saratoga are the two premium meets of the summer and two of the elite meets every racing year, so you would expect nothing but focused athletes, attention to detail by the respective racing jurisdictions, and extreme protection for the horseplayers who love playing both tracks, right?

Del Mar on Saturday hosted food trucks as part of their fan entertainment program. They are always popular, but one fan caught me by surprise sending a shout out via Twitter.

Jockey Kent Desormeaux got off to a slow start at Del Mar this summer, and in fact weighed in two pounds over his first race weight assignment of 118 pounds on Saturday. That didn’t stop Kent from sending out the following social media tweet last Saturday:

“Flag is up and away dey geaux Ragin Cajun is at Del Mar today great chicken sausage bisque shrimp catfish po’boys red beans and rice Gumbo-laya Voted best Cajun food truck 2018 all over da country :) today at Del Mar.”

Gotta love Kent Desormeaux. He found his way to the winners circle over the weekend, too, so the red beans and rice may be working! Good thing he has a couple of days off before racing resumes on Wednesday.

Also at Del Mar last Thursday, a filly named Party Dancer won the fifth race over the turf. She is owned in part by Rick Pitino’s RAP stables. Pitino was fired as basketball coach at Louisville due to a 2015 scandal that involved exotic dancers and escorts. Poor choice of names, coach.

On Wednesday at Saratoga, the fifth race was for New York-bred 2-year-old Maidens scheduled to race 1-1/16 miles on turf. Something was obviously wrong when the first quarter mile of the race was timed at over 29 seconds.

It wasn’t until the following day it was reported the starting gate for Wednesday’s fifth race at Saratoga was placed at the 1-1/8 mile setting, not the proper 1-1/16 mile setting.

How the racing officials, jockeys, trainers, or owners did not realize the gate was in the wrong place is beyond me.

Play of the Week: Del Mar, Wednesday, Race 2, Private Joke (post 5). Gelding got back on winning track when returned to dirt at Pleasanton. New barn is deadly first start after a claim and they bring down Northern California jockey William Antongeorgi for the mount. Consider him well meant.