From the time the Pacific Classic was first conceived it was designed to be Del Mar’s signature event. It was to be a test for the top horses in the nation, going America’s classic distance of ten furlongs, and held where the turf meets the surf. Add in the big money on the line, and the million dollar dirt race was bound to make an immediate splash. It did. On August 10, 1991, a field of eight lined up for the inaugural edition, and while the race, now on Polytrack, remains an important summer event, no finer field was ever assembled for any Pacific Classic.
Those lucky enough to be in attendance at beautiful Del Mar that day were treated to a star studded group littered with millionaires. Among the older males that would carry 124 pounds around the Suburban San Diego oval included Unbridled, winner of the previous year’s Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic. Meanwhile, Farma Way and Festin were the two most accomplished handicap horses so far that season. Itsallgreektome was the defending turf champion, and five-year-old Twilight Agenda was only a few months away from finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. A pair of long shots also got in at 124, but one horse carried significantly less.
Owned and bred by the Mabees of Golden Eagle Farm, Best Pal was the house horse. A founding member of the Board of Directors of Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, John Mabee was at home at Del Mar, and Best Pal was well on the way to becoming the most successful of many good horses the Iowa native raced. An excellent juvenile, Best Pal had already shown a fondness for the main track at Del Mar, having counted what previously had been the biggest race there, the Grade 1 Futurity among his many wins. At three, Best Pal didn’t rack up the stakes wins like he had the year before, but a solid second to Strike the Gold in the Kentucky Derby and a good win in the recent Swaps at Hollywood Park demonstrated that the gelding was still very much a horse of high class. As the only three-year-old in the field, the California bred would take advantage of a sizable eight pound weight allowance afforded to sophomores taking on elders at ten furlongs this time of year.
Twilight Agenda, trained by D. Wayne Lukas looked like a certain winner at the quarter pole. After putting away his stablemate, and race favorite, Farma Way, coming out of the turn, the son of Devil’s Bag enjoyed a seemingly insurmountable 2 ½ length advantage, but Best Pal and rider, Pat Valenzuela, were beginning to roll. Even at the eighth pole, the youngster looked like he might not get up, but his powerful late run carried him by the talented leader, and he motored home to win by one length. Unbridled finished third, but it was all about Best Pal on this day. He completed the ten furlongs in an excellent 1:59 4/5.
Best Pal would try twice more in the Pacific Classic, earning a second and a third. He would also go on to enjoy a long and very successful career that spanned six seasons. But perhaps none of his other 17 lifetime victories trumped that one afternoon at Del Mar when the three-year-old house horse defeated an excellent field of older horses in the first ever Pacific Classic.