The dominating question hanging over the 27th running of the Grade 1, $1 million TVG Pacific Classic Stakes is whether Arrogate will return to form following a drubbing as the 1-to-20 favorite last month in the TVG San Diego Handicap. Winner of three straight Grade/Group 1 stakes in a row – the Breeders’ Cup Classic last fall then the Pegasus World Cup Invitational and Dubai World Cup this year, Arrogate was a shadow of himself recently when fourth and never showing a spark. Accelerate won the San Diego and hopes to duplicate the effort of California Chrome last year in winning the Pacific Classic off a win one month earlier in the San Diego. Collected, trained by Bob Baffert as is Arrogate, enters the Classic off a resolute 14-length victory in the Grade 3 Precisionist Stakes and could be the one to beat if Arrogate isn’t up to the task. Hard Aces finished second in the 1 ½-mile, Grade 3 Cougar II Handicap last month on this track, behind Curlin Road, but has finished eighth and sixth in two previous Pacific Classic tries. Sorry Erik is a 3-year-old facing older opponents for the first time and adds longshot intrigue to the field with his best stakes effort a fourth-place finish in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby in June. The Classic field concludes with Donworth, who finished eight lengths behind Accelerate in the San Diego and Royal Albert Hall, who is running on dirt for the first time in the 28th start of his career and who most recently ran in a claiming race. The Pacific Classic is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Classic and will be televised on NBCSN Saturday with live coverage from 8 - 9 p.m. ET.
Collected showed a lot of promise last year as a 3-year-old, winning the Sham Stakes in his third lifetime start and the Lexington Stakes three races later. After skipping the 2016 Kentucky Derby, Collected ran poorly in the Preakness Stakes then rested to begin his 4-year-old campaign. That was the right call, proven by three straight wins, all stakes, including a 14-length victory in the Precisionist Stakes in June with a career-best 125 Equibase Speed Figure that is as good as the 124 figures Arrogate earned winning the Pegasus World Cup and Dubai World Cup. Flattered when Accelerate came out of the Precisionist to win the San Diego Handicap, and with room to improve again as a lightly raced 4-year-old, Collected also has the benefit of an “early/presser” running style that will allow jockey Martin Garcia to put him on the lead at the start if no other horse wants it or to put him in a stalking position off the pacesetter. As such, Collected is very much the one to beat in the Pacific Classic even if Arrogate returns to his best form.
Accelerate will attempt what California Chrome did last year in winning the San Diego Handicap then the Pacific Classic. Winner of the 2016 Los Alamitos Derby last September, Accelerate lost five races in a row, including when third behind Collected in the Precisionist, before taking the lead from the start and showing the way to the finish last month while earning a career-best and field-high 128 figure, higher than any figure Arrogate has earned to date. That was his first race since adding blinkers and getting a jockey change to Victor Espinoza, so we will expect the same tactics in this race. With only Donworth, Collected and Arrogate to keep Accelerate honest on the front end and guarantee he doesn’t set a leisurely pace from the opening bell, Accelerate has a legitimate shot to duplicate his San Diego effort in the Classic.
Sorry Erik may be viewed as a huge longshot with no chance at all, but I take a different view, because trainer Keith Desormeaux is a horseman who knows where to place his runners and who has surprised many with his horses seeming to outrun long odds many times in the past. Sorry Erik was claimed (purchased) for a paltry $20,000 in January, immediately winning an allowance race before a fifth-place finish in the Louisiana Derby two starts later. In his next start on dirt, Sorry Erik finished fourth of nine in the Ohio Derby, which produced three next-out winners including himself. His best effort yielded a 103 speed figure, which pales in comparison to the main contenders 124-128 range of figures, but Sorry Erik is just a 3-year-old and as such has the most upside in terms of ability of any horse in this field.
Arrogate may have been a bit short of 100% fit in the San Diego Handicap when returning from nearly four months off and a trip half-way across the world following his Dubai World Cup victory (with the equivalent of a 132 Equibase Speed Figure). Certainly, his workouts going into that race didn’t suggest that, but his flat effort when fifth and fourth from start to finish certainly did. Arrogate had won seven of eight races prior to that and was most impressive in many of them, so there’s no doubt how formidable an opponent he can be when he is on his game. Arrogate has come back to work as well coming into the Classic as he did before that previous race, but there still is no proof he will be back to the form that might otherwise make him the one to beat. As such, I can’t discount his chances to win entirely but I can’t totally endorse him either. Personally, I will be betting others to win but using Arrogate on some of my wagers such as in an exacta box with Sorry Erik.
The rest of the Pacific Classic field (with their best representative Equibase Speed Figures): Curlin Road (108), Donworth (119), Hard Aces (111) and Royal Albert Hall (108).
Contenders, in preference order:
Sorry Erik (for exotic wagers)