Any allure lost from the Pacific Classic Stakes (G1) by the defection of 2012 champion older male Acclamation due to a minor injury has been replaced by an intriguing soap opera that has played out over the past week with the sale of Richard’s Kid, who won the 2009 and 2010 editions of the $1 million race that highlights every summer at Del Mar.
On the day Doug O’Neill began serving a 40-day suspension, a group comprised of his owners orchestrated a deal that moved Richard’s Kid away from Bob Baffert and into O’Neill’s barn, temporarily under the control of assistant trainer Leandro Mora.
Despite Richard’s Kid being aggressively shopped by owners Zabeel Racing International for a price tag between $850,000 and $1 million, Baffert was none too pleased at the circumstances and called the matter unprofessional.
In five starts away from Baffert in 2011 and through the first three months of this year, Richard’s Kid didn’t lift a hoof while finishing off the board in five Group races in Dubai.
Bad blood between the O’Neill and Baffert camps came to a head at Wednesday night’s post-position draw, when a verbal sparring match took place between Baffert’s wife, Jill, and O’Neill’s best friend, Mark Verge, chief operating officer of Santa Anita Park and part of Richard’s Kid new ownership group.
This is actually the second time Richard’s Kid has been sold while with Baffert, the previous time remaining in the silver-haired wizard’s care after moving from Arnold Zetcher to Zabeel Racing International to begin his 2010 campaign.
The drama didn’t stop there, as another feud erupted regarding who would ride the 7-to-2 morning-line second choice at the classic distance of 1 ¼-miles on Sunday.
Leading rider Rafael Bejarano had been aboard the now 7-year-old son of Lemon Drop Kid in his previous three starts, a pair of clear victories against lesser stakes competition and a runner-up effort in the Hollywood Gold Cup Handicap (G1), and his agent Joe Ferrer was under the impression he would retain the mount after verbal confirmation from Mora.
However, Paul Boghossian of Triple B Farms, the majority partner of the new ownership group, insisted on replacing Bejarano with Victor Espinoza, which left Ferrer no recourse to bring his case in front of the track stewards.
Baffert is still in position to have the last laugh by winning his fourth Pacific Classic with 5-to-2 morning-line favorite Game On Dude, the top- ranked horse in the America’s Best Racing Thoroughbred media poll.
After finishing as the runner-up in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), the 5-year-old Awesome Again gelding enters off three decisive graded stakes triumphs in 2012, with his only blemish of the year coming when he never got involved in the Dubai World Cup (UAE-G1) in March.
Game On Dude’s disappointing fourth-place finish in last year’s Pacific Classic came on the heels of a trio of graded stakes defeats.
Del Mar poster girl Chantal Sutherland retains the mount on Game On Dude for the ninth straight race and no doubt will be instructed to get to the lead early and try to hold on to the wire. Those tactics have proved successful for the duo in five graded stakes wins, and a fourth Grade 1 triumph would push Game On Dude’s earnings over $3 million.
The jockeying leaves Bejarano on the “other” Baffert entrant, Jaycito, who ironically was sent to Baffert one race after winning the Norfolk Stakes (G1) in 2010 for Mike Mitchell, a move that caused its share of bitterness.
Jaycito snapped a five-race losing streak with a visually unimpressive victory in an optional claiming race on July 22, and he would be a major surprise in the Pacific Classic despite having potent connections on his side.
Remarkably, Rail Trip is back for another Pacific Classic try after finishing third, a length behind Richard’s Kid, in 2009. Also a 7-year-old, the Jump Start gelding snapped an eight-race losing streak with a half-length score in the San Diego Handicap (G2) on July 28.
Bent feelings also surrounded Rail Trip when he was shipped away from Ron Ellis to New York in 2010 after a pair of Grade 2 victories and a runner-up finish in the Hollywood Gold Cup. Five defeats later, for trainer Rick Dutrow, and Rail Trip was returned home for his 2012 campaign.
Dullahan's connections throw him in against older runners for the first time hoping their 3-year-old son of Even the Score is in fact the epitome of a synthetic specialist. Both career wins have come in Grade 1 events on the Polytrack surface at Keeneland Race Course, but he’ll have to come from the clouds much faster than he ever has before if he’s to hit the wire first against these.
It’s a homecoming of sorts for Joel Rosario, the leading rider the previous three years at Del Mar, making the trip west to ride Dullahan, the third-place finisher in this year’s Kentucky Derby (G1), for the first time. Rosario dominated the Southern California circuit with Bejarano from 2008 until a couple of months ago, when he moved his tack to New York only to enjoy moderate success.
At the ripe old age of 80, Ron McAnally looks to repeat the formula used in 2003 when Candy Ride defeated three opponents in the Pacific Classic three starts after relocating from Argentina to the U.S. Elected into the Racing Hall of Fame 22 years ago, McAnally has finished in the money with 8-of-10 starters at the meet despite getting nowhere near the same stock consistently at this advanced stage of his career that he did decades ago.
A four-time Grade 1 winner in Argentina and the runner-up in the Shoemaker Mile Stakes (G1) in his U.S. debut on June 30, Suggestive Boy moves off the turf for the first time and could sit a good mid-pack trip under Joe Talamo. The 4-year-old Easing Along colt does show four main track workouts since a three-quarter-length win in the Wickerr Stakes a month ago.
Suggestive Boy isn’t the only South American import looking to make a splash by the sea as super filly Amani makes her second U.S. start off a fast-closing third-place effort in the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (G1) three weeks ago. The Chilean-bred daughter of Morning Raider was on edge in the paddock prior to that start and then found herself ten lengths last under Garrett Gomez after bobbling at the break.
Amani posted a two-length maiden breaking victory in her only start of 2010 before rolling off nine wins from ten starts a year later. All of those efforts came on dirt, with all but one of the wins coming by wide margins, and culminated with her beating the boys by nearly six lengths in the St. Leger Cristal (Chi-G1) last December.
Below is the complete field, including post position, morning line and a brief comment for Sunday’s Pacific Classic.
PP Horse (Morning Line Odds) Comment
1. Rail Trip (10-1) Valdivia’s only win of the meet came in the SD ’Cap
2. Amani (5-1) Only defeat in Chile came in one of two tries against males
3. Richard’s Kid (7-2) New everything in search of same result
4. Where’s Sterling (15-1) Multiple graded stakes-placed and runner-up in lone Poly try
5. Dullahan (6-1) Pair of wins make him 4th millionaire in the group
6. Akkadian (20-1) Steadily improving, but off the board in all three graded stakes tries
7. Jaycito (12-1) “Other” Baffert lands meet’s leading jock, but still has no shot
8. Suggestive Boy (5-1) Not sure what to make of slow 5f workout three days before race
9. Game On Dude (5-2) Can’t fault those that view him as a slam dunk
10. Riveting Reason (30-1) Nothing more than pace fodder
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