Run at 1 ¼ miles on dirt, the $1 million, Grade 1 TVG Pacific Classic Stakes Saturday at Del Mar is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” qualifying race for the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.
This year is a very interesting edition of the Pacific Classic, and the more I look at it, the more I believe it should provide a real betting opportunity, and this week’s Five Questions will take that approach.
Handicappers in general should have a process and, for the most part, that process for me starts with assessing the favorite. The questions here are presented as a way to look at field in terms of wagering value working outward from the favorites.
1. “Seeking the Soul enters the Pacific Classic in career-best form. … Will you be using?”—@TwinSpires
From a class standpoint, Seeking the Soul has an edge as a proven Grade 1-type competitor. His first graded stakes win came in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare in 2017, and he has since faced some of the top older horses in training. He made his 2019 debut in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes back in January at Gulfstream Park on a sloppy track and posted a credible second-place finish. He was against the flow enough in the Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline and thus had a legitimate excuse, and Seeking the Soul encountered similar in terms of flow with the wide trip in the Grade 2 Alysheba Stakes Presented by Sentient Jet. He was able to rebound in his most recent race when bringing his top effort to take the Grade 2 Stephen Foster Stakes June 15 at Churchill Downs. He comes into this race fresh and has consistently shown he can run his race off this type of layoff. While he fits on form, class, and speed figures, pace will come into play as will distance. While there does not seem to be any distance limitations, it is curious that he has remained around 1 1/8 miles (ideal distance for him) throughout his career and will face a stamina test this afternoon when stretching out to 1 ¼ miles. That is something to keep in mind, again, in terms of value as the projected favorite.
2. “Pavel the king of place and show”—@EddieRoyce23
I also have some overall concerns regarding Pavel, the second choice on the morning line. He has been chasing some of the top horses in the division and holding his own, despite finishing in those underneath spots. He has not visited the winner’s circle in more than a year since a Grade 1 win in the 2018 Stephen Foster Handicap. The way that Stephen Foster came up on the softer side and played out in running, it was the ideal race for him to win. He was coming into that race off a wide (slightly against the bias) trip in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita. A similar case can be made here in terms of form coming off the wide trip against the bias in the Grade 1 Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap and, most recently, another wide trip in the Grade 2 Suburban Stakes at Belmont Park. Those minor-awards results seem to have distance as a common factor as Pavel is winless in eight attempts at this 1 ¼-mile distance and, physically, I think this distance is a bit beyond his ideal trip.
3. “Quip takes them all the way around.”—@crpinneo
Looking at the early chatter about this race, Quip looks to be the “now” horse and perhaps the wise-guy pick in the race. It is tough to argue with that logic as he is a lightly raced and improving 4-year-old, all things you want to see with a new face in the division. He has improved with each race this year since coming back in February at Gulfstream Park in the Grade 3 Hal’s Hope Stakes. He took the needed step forward in his second start of the season to win the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap and followed that up with a solid second in the Grade 2 Stephen Foster. In terms of pace, he has tactical speed and can position himself well in the early stages. He prefers to race up close to the pace, and that looks to be a favorable style for this track, especially when considering potential race dynamics. With Seeking the Soul and Pavel both expected to take up a tracking role, Quip very likely will use that early speed to his advantage. That said, he should expect to face some competition in the early stages. War Story has tactical speed and is drawn on the rail, so he is unlikely to drop too far back from the inside. Higher Power also could be a pace factor early coming out of shorter races, especially with stablemate Campaign in the race. The outside post could also force the hands of Mongolian Groom and Draft Pick — two horses who prefer to race close up to the pace — and considering they are longshots in the race it would serve best to be more aggressive. Expect Quip to be on the lead, but he should have company keeping him honest up front. Distance is also a question for him as this will be his first attempt at this classic distance.
4. “Trainer John Sadler has Campaign in the mix for the Pacific Classic.”—@HR_Nation
John Sadler won this race last year with Accelerate and turned that “Win and You’re In” victory into a win in the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Classic. While much of the conversation this meet has centered on Sadler’s Catalina Cruiser, who won the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap July 20 at Del Mar, the trainer will look for a different spot for him and enters the Pacific Classic with both Higher Power and Campaign. Of the pair, Campaign has established himself in this graded stakes arena this season and carries the edge on class over Higher Power. For a horse who really has not done much wrong since he was transferred to Sadler, it seems Campaign is being a bit overlooked in this race. He has class with his July 24 win in the Grade 3 Cougar II Handicap and a victory in the Grade 3 Tokyo City Cup Stakes in April. He ran a good fourth in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap Presented by San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino against the race flow and had a less-than-ideal trip in the Grade 2 Woodford Reserve Brooklyn Invitational Stakes at Belmont in June. Some of the talk around him is in terms of speed figures and his numbers being on the lower end compared with others in the field. Using OptixFIGs, his numbers are not far off others in the Pacific Classic and he seems to be the type that runs to his competition. Some of that has to do with his off-the-pace running style, which plays a major factor in his speed figures. Also worth noting is the distances of his most recent races. With limited data at those marathon distances, the numbers need to be balanced with other handicapping factors. His off-the-pace running style could be a challenge in this race. Historically, this race plays favorably to those forwardly placed, and the most recent horse to win from off the pace was Shared Belief in 2014.
5. “Wide-open field of 10 is set for the Pacific Classic … ”—@BreedersCup
After going through the favorites and finding some legitimate concerns for each of them, it does open up the possibilities in this race. While a win from Seeking the Soul, Pavel, Quip, or Campaign would not be any surprise, I am willing to take a shot with a couple other horses flying under the radar coming into this race.
Tenfold shipped in from the East Coast for this race and comes in fresh for trainer Steve Asmussen. Coming into the race fresh appears to be a positive for this horse who seems to prefer a little more time between races. That looked to be one of the factors in the Grade 2 Stephen Foster in his most recent start June 15. Trip was also a major factor as he dropped 13 lengths back early while against the race flow and was unable to get into the running. He has every reason to rebound off that race, and it’s worth noting the strength of that stakes race overall with two next-out stakes winners in King Zachary and Tom’s d’Etat as well as the solid second by Yoshida in the Grade 1 Whitney Stakes Aug. 3. While distance is a concern with some of the main players in this race, Tenfold has a win at the distance in the Grade 3 Pimlico Special Stakes in May.
It is pretty rare to use the phrase “taking a shot” along with the name Bob Baffert, but that is the case with For the Top, whose connections picked up this colt from Argentina with these classic races in mind. He made his first local start back at Santa Anita in June and made an early burst in the race that was enough for me watching the race to say some words out loud that cannot be printed here. That race seemed like one he needed coming off a six-month layoff and made him worthy of a look going forward. He showed a different dimension when racing forwardly placed in the Grade 3 Cougar II Handicap, but it seemed with that trip the 1 ½-mile marathon distance was just beyond ideal. The Cougar II should set him up well in terms of fitness for this race. For the Top has moved forward with each race in terms of speed figures, but without question he needs another move forward to compete for the win here.
As one of the highlights of the Del Mar meet, the Pacific Classic is always an exciting race and one I look forward to every year. The final Five Questions for the summer meets will be next week for the Grade 1 Travers Stakes from Saratoga.
Good luck horseplayers! Any questions can be sent in on Twitter @EmilyOptixEQ.