Not to go all Olympics on you, but if the results of stakes races in
the first two weeks of the meeting are looked at as “heats” or “prelims”
for the $1 million Pacific Classic on Sunday, August 26, then Del Mar’s
signature race is going to be one star-studded final.
Acclamation made a successful title defense in the Eddie Read Stakes on July 21, prompting owner Bud Johnston and trainer Don Warren to cite a title
defense in the Pacific Classic as a primary goal while leaving open the
possibility of going in the Del Mar Handicap on grass one day earlier.
Richard’s Kid set a Polytrack record, 2:29.22 for 1 ½-miles in
impressively winning the Cougar II Handicap on Friday, July 27,
encouraging trainer Bob Baffert to give the two-time Pacific Classic
winner (2009, 2010) a shot at a third. Richard’s Kid had finished
second and third in previous Cougar II assignments before his Pacific
Worth Repeating and Balladry, the second and third-place finishers in
the Cougar II, are solid Pacific Classic possibilities but may not be
the only other ones advancing from the Cougar II to the Classic.
Rail Trip signaled readiness with a victory on Saturday, July 28, in
the San Diego Handicap, the 1 1/16-mile traditional stepping stone to
the Classic. It was the first win for Rail Trip in more than two years.
But five of the eight straight defeats had come in an ill-fated,
13-month campaign in the East. And the last two were while coming off a
six-month layoff due to an injury that prompted a return to the West
and to the stable of trainer Ron Ellis. It was while in Ellis’ care, and
under jockey Jose Valdivia, Jr., Rail Trip scored his biggest victory,
the 2009 Hollywood Gold Cup.
Stats to evidence that Rail Trip runs for the Ellis-Valdivia
combination: Rail Trip is 9-for-15 when saddled by Ellis and seven of
those wins were with Valdivia in the irons (he’s 7-for-12)
John Scott and Kettle Corn, the 2-3 finishers in the San Diego, are
being considered for the Classic . Baffert is training Game On Dude up
to the Classic, with a start dependent upon how the reigning Hollywood
Gold Cup Champion handles the Polytrack surface. So far, Baffert has
been enthusiastic about the efforts.
The Pacific Classic has had some major East Coast-based horses ship
in to participate in the past, and that’s not beyond the realm of
possibility this year. But given the results of the “prelims,” it’ll be a
brave East Coast trainer who opts to ship.
“Ron The Greek shipped out to win the Santa Anita Handicap (in
March),” Warren pointed out. “But there are so many races and so much
money back there this time of year, they don’t have to come this far
unless they think they’ve got a really good horse and a really good
“It’s going to be a tough race, no doubt about that,” Warren said.
“You run for a $1 million purse and you’ve got to expect it. “ Warren
said he’ll wait until late in Pacific Classic week to decide between the
Classic and the Del Mar Handicap.