The $1 million Pacific Classic is scheduled to be run on Saturday, Aug. 19, at Del Mar. Below is my horse-by-horse analysis of the field:
1-ROYAL ALBERT HALL
This guy was claimed by Kristen Mulhall for $50,000 on July 23 after competing in a Group I affair — for a $1 million purse, no less — just five months earlier. Granted, he finished ninth that day, but he’d finished third in the Grade III Elkhorn at Keeneland on April 23, 2016, so he clearly has some back class.
The problem is the son of Royal Applause has never raced on a dirt surface before — something that doesn’t concern Mulhall.
“He’s worked on the dirt as good as any horse I’ve had,” Mulhall told my colleague Margaret Ransom. “He has a stride for the dirt; he doesn’t have that quick turn of foot like a turf horse, but he has a great dirt stride.”
On the surface (see what I did there?) and despite Royal Albert Hall’s strong turf pedigree, Mulhall appears to have a point. Most turf horses — well, most good turf horses — have a superior late kick. For example, over the course of his brilliant career, Wise Dan earned eight “excellent” late speed rations (zero or greater) from 12 races on the lawn.
Royal Albert Hall has earned exactly one such LSR — in 21 turf tries. Still, this is a really tough spot to break one’s dirt maiden and I’d insist on a big price.
FAIR ODDS: 30-1
Imagine for a moment that you are Bob Baffert and the horse acclaimed the “best thoroughbred in the world” — an animal you train — just lost in embarrassing fashion to a lone frontrunner in the San Diego Handicap. Four weeks later you have a chance for redemption.
What is the one thing you would not, under any circumstances, allow to happen?
If you guessed “let the frontrunner get another easy lead” or something similar, give yourself a gold star and let me introduce you to the Baffert-trained Collected, the horse I think will ensure Accelerate’s defeat in the Pacific Classic.
Here’s the thing: Collected is very, very talented. In fact, he’s got the best overall recent speed figures and early speed rations (ESRs) in the field and could win Saturday’s Classic on his own accord. But I suspect his number one mission is to keep Accelerate from sauntering around the Del Mar oval like he did in the San Diego Handicap.
And don’t get me wrong: There is absolutely nothing wrong or devious about this strategy. Collected is the quickest horse in the field and his being on the engine gives Baffert a potent 1-2 punch in a million-dollar race.
Plus, there’s a precedent. Collected beat — whipped might be a better term — Accelerate in the Precisionist (G3) utilizing similar frontrunning tactics (albeit before the latter donned blinkers).
Although he’s not really bred to go the 10-furlong distance of the Pacific Classic, I give Collected a big shot of collecting a large piece of Saturday’s purse.
FAIR ODDS: 5-2
Even though he paid $17.60 in winning the San Diego Handicap, this dude was the clear second choice in that race and the only other graded stakes winner besides Arrogate in the five-horse field, which, in effect, became a four-horse field after El Huerfano stumbled at the start, causing jockey Evin Roman to lose his irons. In other words, outside of Arrogate, who didn’t run a step, Accelerate didn’t beat much.
On Saturday, the John Sadler trainee will be facing four other graded winners and, after his last race, is sure to be targeted like a steak at a vegan barbecue in the early going. In other words, there’ll be no -4 ESR this time around (the figure that the son of Lookin At Lucky recorded in wiring the San Diego).
I think Accelerate is sure to be an underlay in the Pacific Classic, so I’m playing against him. If he beats me, he beats me.
FAIR ODDS: 9-2
Keith Desormeaux trainee bid and hung in the Ohio Derby (G3), which has turned out to be a key race, with both Irap, the winner, and Girvin, the place horse, coming back to win and several others — like Game Over, who finished second in the West Virginia Derby (G3) — also running well in subsequent starts.
Sorry Erik also won his first race after going back to Ohio (cue The Pretenders), but it was a turf affair that produced a very light 90 Brisnet Speed Figure (today’s par is 105). Still, the fact that he is a 3-year-old — and a late foal at that — makes me think that Desormeaux’s charge may have more to give and that makes him an intriguing longshot possibility in Saturday’s race.
FAIR ODDS: 20-1
One of the reasons I look at horse races from the standpoint of probabilities rather than an “I like” or “I don’t like” perspective is because I understand that different race setups allow for different results. And this guy is a perfect example of that.
The 7-year-old son of Hard Spun is a Grade I winner, but that Grade I score came courtesy of a blistering pace (-13 ESR) in the 2015 Gold Cup at Santa Anita. If he gets a similar setup on Saturday, I think he’s got a legitimate shot to visit the winner’s circle again, but the likelihood of such a pace developing appears remote.
Yeah, I think Collected will be gunned to the front and, yes, I think Accelerate — especially with blinkers — will want to be nearby, but the projected ESR in the Pacific Classic is just a -4 (about nine lengths slower than the aforementioned 2015 Gold Cup).
Nonetheless, there is a chance that the early fractions will be brisk and, because of that, I’m keeping this oldtimer in the mix.
FAIR ODDS: 15-1
Doug O’Neill trainee is one of those horses that you see in every race — not great, not awful. His speed ratings are OK and he’s got decent early foot. The issue is he doesn’t have enough of either to really pique my interest and his LSRs are on the light side. So, even with a great pace setup, I’m not sure the son of two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic champion Tiznow can get the job done.
On the plus side, he makes his third start off a layoff and should be poised to give his best.
FAIR ODDS: 20-1
Claimed for $40,000 on April 22, this 4-year-old gelded son of — surprise, surprise — Curlin captured the Cougar II Handicap (G3) in his last start (defeating Hard Aces) and now tackles some of the best older horses in the Golden State.
His LSRs are solid, but he’ll need to improve to have an impact here.
FAIR ODDS: 20-1
Where do I start…
I guess the first thing to say is that this guy is the best horse in the world — or at least he was. The notion that he was somehow overrated and beaten by a better horse in the San Diego is, as the kids say, “cray cray.” Just watch a replay of the Dubai World Cup and you’ll see what I mean.
But if you don’t believe your own eyes, believe the numbers. In nine lifetime starts, Arrogate has earned a “good” LSR (-5 or greater) in seven of them, which is incredible — particularly for a dirt horse.
On the other hand…
To use the words of the esteemed Dr. Seuss, Arrogate’s performance in the San Diego Handicap “stink, stank, stunk” and while it’s true that even good horses get beat, most don’t get taken to the woodshed like Baffert’s stable star was.
Secretariat was never beaten by double-digit lengths, nor was Spectacular Bid, nor was Ghostzapper, nor was — are you ready for this? — The Green Monkey, the famous $16 million yearling purchase who never won a race.
So what happened on July 22?
Well, according to Baffert, the son of Unbridled’s Song was simply underprepared. Looking at Arrogate’s past workouts, I don’t see this — but I haven’t won 2,770 races (and counting) like Baffert has, so I’ll take his word on it.
Still, I’m left wondering which Arrogate we’ll see on Saturday. Hence, I’ll let the odds be my guide. I think jockey Mike Smith is going to get a perfect trip stalking the pace and I believe anything north of 3-5 odds is fair, so that will be my condition for betting.
FAIR ODDS: 3-5
Exacta 2,8 with 1,4,5.
Trifecta 2,8 with 2,8 with 1,4,5.