The 24th running of $1,000,000 TVG Pacific Classic is set go tomorrow with some of the nation's best horses facing off at the classic distance of ten furlongs. Del Mar's summertime jewel has attracted a deep and talented field of 11. While most of the pre-race attention for the Breeders' Cup Classic win and you're in event has fallen to the excellent gelding, Game On Dude, and the unbeaten two-year-old champion of 2013, Shared Belief, I believe the race sets up well for another. His name is Majestic Harbor.
What a difference a change of scenery can make. Last year, Majestic Harbor was languishing in the netherworld of optional claimers, and non-threatening attempts in stakes races in Louisiana and Texas. In other words, the five-year-old son of Rockport Harbor was going nowhere fast. Well, he did go somewhere, and the destination was the barn of Sean McCarthy barn in sunny Southern California. The new home has done him a world of good. Majestic Harbor reminds me of another older horse transplanted to the Los Angeles area more than a quarter-century ago named Cutlass Reality. Well intended enough, Cutlass Reality was also not much more than an allowance horse in the East before seeing his career take off when he was moved to California. More than a million dollars and a half-dozen graded stakes victories later, all at the age of six, Cutlass Reality got good enough in California to easily defeat Alysheba and take the measure of Ferdinand in three straight races.
Majestic Harbor is not there yet, but five solid races since the move, including a monster win in the Grade 1 Gold Cup at Santa Anita have the horse once thought of well enough to compete in the Louisiana Derby off a maiden win, well on his way. I realize that it setup well, and they didn’t come home fast in the Gold Cup, but Majestic Harbor had the tactical speed to stay close, and his move on the turn effectively sealed the deal only one mile into the historic affair. It was extremely impressive. Some have opined that his 6 ¼ length romp over a number of solid older males, and the 111 Beyer that came along with it, was the result of a perfect setup for Majestic Harbor. Maybe so, but so what? I see his domination that day under Tyler Baze as one of the best performances run in the United States this year, and more evidence that Majestic Harbor is thriving and continuing on an upward trend that makes him one of the most dangerous horses currently in training.
Now that you know a little more about Majestic Harbor, let’s take a look at why I think this race sets up for him so well...
Game On Dude is a speed horse, who had never done his best racing at Del Mar until last year, when he caught an easy pace and a weak field. Shared Belief has never before run at Del Mar, but more importantly, has never been the distance. Breaking from the outside post of eleven, it’s a good bet that the perfect sophomore will need to be used early to find the early position that he prefers. Add in the South American speedster, Mystery Train, and the front running Frac Daddy breaking from the rail, and you have the makings of a contentious early pace. Ice Cream Truck and Toast of New York also have the potential to push the early fractions ever faster. All this early pace should set things up for a rally, and Majestic Harbor has demonstrated a strong turn of foot when the early leaders have been softened up just a little. In other words, it could well setup just as well for the Gallant Stables owned horse, as did the Gold Cup.
While it is true that Game On Dude has won at the classic distance in a more than respectable 6-of-14 lifetime, note that his worst career races have come when going this same 1 ¼ distance with a pressured early pace. See the last two editions of the Breeders’ Cup, or his most recent start in the Gold Cup, for good examples of this. And as mentioned, Shared Belief has never been the distance. Facing not only the spectre of his toughest competition of his career, but coupling it with a distance farther than he has ever seen, is a troubling combination for just about any horse. Meanwhile, taking a look at Majestic Harbor’s excellent form since arriving on the West Coast, it quickly becomes apparent that his two best races are the two longest. In both his Gold Cup and Tokyo City wins, his rally came early and proved overwhelming for the fields that already had a mile or more under their belts. Despite a breeding that may hint otherwise, I have no other recourse than to believe that Majestic Harbor is one distance loving son of a gun, more so than any of the top contenders for Sunday’s big race, including other capable late runners like Clubhouse Ride and Imperative.
The final piece of the puzzle is the soon to be gone Polytrack main surface of tomorrow’s Pacific Classic. Majestic Harbor has never before run at Del Mar, and in fact, only has one synthetic start so far in his career. That effort was a non-threatening third in an allowance race a few years back at Keeneland. While that performance was nothing to write home about, note that he did rally from ninth that day to get the show, and the performance seems to be representative of his form at the time. Majestic Harbor has been working very well over the Del Mar track for more than a month in preparation for this, so I have a good reason to believe that his excellent form, appreciation for the distance, and his positive race set-up will carry over just fine on Del Mar’s Polytrack.