With the defection of Catalina Cruiser, the Grade 1, $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar lost a star name. But it did manage to attract some eastern shippers, including the Stephen Foster Stakes (G2) winner Seeking the Soul, Quip, Tenfold and War Story. Out of the west coast-based horses, Pavel is the most well-known contender, although he rarely stays home and runs around the country, if not the world.
1. War Story, 8-1 (Northern Afleet – Jorge Navarro/Tiago Perreira – 35: 7-6-5): This 9-year-old gelding won the Monmouth Cup (G3) by a head over Bal Harbour, but it will take a greater effort to pick up the top prize against this group. With his back class though and midpack style, he might pass some tired horses for a piece. Use underneath.
2. Quip, 9/2 (Distorted Humor – Rodolphe Brisset/Florent Geroux – 9: 4-2-1): Good second in the Stephen Foster. He only finished a neck behind Seeking the Soul. Plus, the third-place Toms d’Etat went on to win the Alydar Stakes at Saratoga. As a younger horse, he also owns more room to improve than Seeking the Soul. But he still needs to answer the 1 ¼-mile distance question. Quip's pedigree looks neutral at best, with a somewhat questionable bottom side. Win contender.
3. Pavel, 7/2 (Creative Cause – Doug O’Neill/Mario Gutierrez – 17: 3-1-2): Since November, this horse has competed in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Champions Cup (G1) in Japan, the Dubai World Cup (G1) and the Metropolitan Handicap (G1) at Belmont. He failed to hit the top three in all those races. But afterward, he did finish a decent third in the Suburban (G2) behind Preservationist and Catholic Boy. He also ran second in this race last year. Win contender.
4. For the Top, 12-1 (Equal Stripes – Bob Baffert/Martin Garcia – 7: 2-1-2): For the Top’s two starts in this country were both losses. His fourth-place finish in a one-mile optional claiming race at Santa Anita is forgivable because he made a premature move. But he also finished a distant third by 13 ¼ lengths in the Cougar II Handicap (G2) after getting tired in the stretch run as well. Look elsewhere. Toss.
5. Seeking the Soul, 3-1 (Perfect Soul – Dallas Stewart/John Velazquez – 27: 7-6-7): This obvious contender won the Stephen Foster in June. At the beginning of the year, he also finished second in the Pegasus World Cup behind dominant City of Light. His eighth-place finish in the Dubai World Cup is disappointing, but that is forgivable as a one-off clunker. At shorter odds, he is a major threat. The pick.
6. Higher Power, 8-1 (Medaglia D’Oro – John Sadler/Flavien Prat) – 12: 4-1-4): Even without Catalina Cruiser, Sadler and Hronis Racing are still present with Higher Power. This one raced on turf in his last two starts, winning an optional claimer at Santa Anita and finishing second in the Wickerr Stakes. He also finished fifth in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1) in an even performance, 7 ¼ lengths behind. As with War Story, with a good trip he might clunk into the superfecta. Use underneath.
7. Tenfold, 8-1 (Curlin – Steve Asmussen/Mike Smith – 11: 4-0-1): The Pimlico Special (G3) winner went on to finish a dismal ninth in the Stephen Foster. Furthermore, the Pimlico Special runner-up You‘re To Blame ran fifth in the Brooklyn Invitational (G2) and sixth in the Alydar Stakes. Also, third-place Cordmaker finished fifth in the Suburban. If Tenfold wins, it would be quite an upset. Toss.
8. Campaign, 6-1 (Curlin – John Sadler/Rafael Bejarano – 10: 5-1-0): The Tokyo City Cup (G3) and Cougar II Handicap (G3) winner loves 1 ½ miles. At 1 ¼ miles, his chances are questionable. But he did finish a decent fourth in the Santa Anita Handicap, only 1 ¾ lengths behind Mongolian Groom. If he clunks into the superfecta in this spot, it will come as no real surprise. Use underneath.
9. Mongolian Groom, 20-1 (Hightail – Enebish Ganbat/Abel Cedillo – 13: 2-2-2): Mongolian Groom improved under added blinkers in the San Diego Handicap (G2), finishing second by a length to Catalina Cruiser. In addition, he also held a 1 ¼-length advantage on Draft Pick at the end. Now he stretches back out in distance, and it is noticeable his two lifetime wins came at one mile. Live longshot.
10. Draft Pick, 20-1 (Candy Ride – Peter Eurton/Joe Talamo – 11: 3-2-3): The third in the San Diego is a disappointment. Not only did he fail to pass Catalina Cruiser, but he lost ground in the stretch and let Mongolian Groom pass. He did win a four-horse optional claiming race two starts back over Route Six Six. But against better horses, it is hard to trust this one for the win. Use underneath.
Conclusion: While Seeking the Soul is not an exciting choice, there are no monsters in this race, and he feels more likely to handle 1 ¼ miles than Quip.
Also, even though Pavel owns the right numbers to contend and might even win, he tends to disappoint more than deliver. Plus, Mario Gutierrez is not the most trustworthy jockey on a day-to-day basis, even if he did ride a few big horses.
Seeking the Soul should get the job done here. As for my plays...
Exacta: 5 / 9