By Margaret Ransom
A wide-open field of 10 is set to line up for the 29th running of the $1 million TVG Pacific Classic (G1) at Del Mar on Saturday, with Seeking the Soul the slight morning-line favorite in a Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” race.
One of the top races in the country, the winner earns an automatic berth in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 2. The 1 ¼-mile race first run in 1991 has produced a pair of Pacific Classic-BC Classic double winners: Pleasantly Perfect in 2003 and Accelerate last year.
The weather forecast is calling for a typical Southern California day, with sunny skies and high in the mid-70s. Fast and firm is the surface condition scenario.
Charles Fipke’s homebred Seeking the Soul was made the tepid 3-1 favorite (Pavel is the second choice at 7-2; Quip is 9-2). The son of Perfect Soul hasn’t raced in the two months since winning the Stephen Foster Handicap (G2) at Churchill Downs by a neck over Quip, who will take another shot on Saturday. The 6-year-old Seeking the Soul, trained by Dallas Stewart, has earned more than $3.3 million thanks to consistently hitting the board in some of the richest races around, such as the Pegasus World Cup (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1). John Velazquez will pilot Seeking the Soul from the No. 5 post, a good spot for the versatile horse who can drop off a quick pace or sit closer if necessary.
War Story, who drew the inside post, is coming off a hard-fought win in the Monmouth Cup (G3) at Monmouth Park on Haskell day. After the experience in the brutal heat and humidity which forced cancellations at many tracks in the East for a few days, War Story hopefully will enjoy the cool confines of Del Mar. The Jorge Navarro trainee is another who has made seven figures the hard way, placing in a lot of top stakes in his 35-race career. He was seventh in the Pacific Classis three years ago and has raced in multiple states at multiple distances and at various classes since earning a win or two along the way. He’ll surely be sent for the lead under Tiago Pereira, who is riding his in first Pacific Classic yet.
Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen is looking for his first Pacific Classic win as he sends out Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Grade 2 winner Tenfold. Asmussen hopes his son of Curlin runs better than his ninth-place finish in the Stephen Foster in mid-June. The 2018 Jim Dandy (G2) winner has plenty of talent and this race is his chance to show it. The distance is no problem as he already has a 1 ¼-mile dirt win, and he gets the services of Hall of Famer Mike Smith, who knows how to win big races.
WinStar Farm, China Horse Club and SF Racing’s Grade 2 winner Quip returned from nearly a year off to make three starts this year, including a win in the Oaklawn Handicap (G2) and his just-miss in the Stephen Foster. Rodolphe Brisset trains this son of Distorted Humor, who is G1-placed. The 4-year-old has been training well at Saratoga and ships cross-country in search of an easier spot than he’d get at the Spa. Florent Geroux will be back aboard and the pair will most likely be part of an early pace scenario from the No. 2 post.
Reddam Racing’s Pavel, a gray son of Creative Cause, always shows up for trainer Doug O’Neill even though he’s not always the life of the party. He’s another millionaire who has made his money the hard way, winning occasionally but placing more often in rich stakes. He won last year’s Stephen Foster, was second to Accelerate here a year ago and has a pair of fourths in the last two Dubai World Cups (G1). The late-running globetrotter always gives his best, but he’ll need it to be a significant factor in this race. Stranger things have happened.
Hronis Racing and trainer John Sadler teamed up for the win with Accelerate, and this year send out Highest Honor for his first Grade 1 off a runner-up finish in the Wickerr Handicap on the grass three weeks ago. This will be his toughest test by far, but this owner/trainer combo knows how to step up and win. Flavien Prat is aboard for the first time.
Sadler will also saddle Woodford Racing’s Campaign, who won the 1 ½-mile Cougar II Handicap (G3) three weeks ago. The 4-year-old son of Curlin got a late start to his career after debuting a year ago, but has made up for it this year as he makes his sixth start of 2019. His last race numbers-wise, fits with the top choices and is the only runner in the field to have earned a win over Del Mar’s main track. Rafael Bejarano will be back aboard.
RRR Racing’s Argentine import For The Top has a pair of North American starts in the care of five-time Pacific Classic winner Bob Baffert, but has failed to make much of an impact in America – he was third in the Cougar II Handicap last out.. He does have room for improvement, though, in his third North American start, and he’ll need it if his connections expect any kind of top finish. Martin Garcia, who won this race two years ago on the Baffert-trained Collected, takes over the mount.
C R K Stable’s Draft King won the Affirmed (G3) against fellow 3-year-olds a year ago and was also a decent third in the San Diego, but this is a steep climb in class. He has been training well for Pete Eurton since his last race a month ago and though he makes his first attempt at the distance, the son of 2003 winner Candy Ride is certainly bred to get it easily. Joe Talamo will be in the saddle.
Mongolian Groom finished a respectable second to Catalina Cruiser in the San Diego Handicap (G2) last out. He’s in deep here, though, and will be a long shot to even his the board.
The race has produced some memorable moments. In the inaugural, Cal-bred gelding and fan-favorite Best Pal came away with the win. Some of the stellar handicap horses that have won the race include Bertrando, Tinners Way (twice), Free House, Skimming (twice), Lava Man, Game On Dude, Shared Belief, Beholder, California Chrome, and Accelerate.
Perhaps the most memorable Pacific Classic occurred in 1996, when Dare and Go upset the mighty Cigar, who came into the race with a then-record 16-race winning streak.
The Pacific Classic is the day’s 10th of 11 races with a post time of 6:30 p.m. PT.