The 29th running of the Grade 1, $1 million TVG Pacific Classic at Del Mar, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Classic on November 2, drew a strong field of 10. Although not as accomplished as some of the others, Campaign looks like an up-and-coming star in the handicap division with three wins in his last five races including the Grade 3 Cougar II Handicap in his most recent start. However, the bettors’ choice may be the horse who leads the field in career accomplishments as well as earnings with $3.3 million banked, Seeking the Soul. That contender was last seen winning the Grade 2 Stephen Foster Stakes in June. Quip was a neck shy of winning the Foster and won the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap prior to that so he must be considered a strong contender. Tenfold was a disappointing ninth in the Foster but did win the Grade 3 Pimlico Special Stakes prior to that.
Pavel may get attention from bettors as he finished second in last year's Pacific Classic and won the 2018 Foster but he has not threatened to win in six races since last year's Foster and he is winless in eight tries at the distance. War Story has earned $2.8 million in his career and enters the race off a victory in the Grade 3 Monmouth Cup Stakes but he has never finished in the top three in five career starts at 1 ¼ miles. Mongolian Groom and Draft Pick finished second and third, respectively, in the local prep for the Classic last month, the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap, so they could get a share again. For the Top has only put forth mediocre efforts in two races since importing to the U.S. and appears overmatched, while Higher Power enters the race off a runner-up effort in a non-graded stakes on turf last month and is another who does not appear to fit at this level.
Campaign is a lightly raced 4-year-old who knows how to win, with five victories in 10 starts. Having shifted to the barn of top trainer John Sadler prior to his first start of 2019 in February, Campaign won that race with a stirring rally from ninth. He then stepped up in class to compete in the Santa Anita Handicap where he was not disgraced when checking in fourth. Just eight days later on April 14, Campaign won the Tokyo City Cup Stakes before shipping to New York to miss by a total of three-quarters of a length in a four-horse blanket finish in the Brooklyn Invitational. Returning to his home base in southern California, Campaign won the Cougar II Handicap over the track last month in his most recent race. Those last four efforts earned strong Equibase Speed Figures of 110, 112, 109 and 111 which are as good as the 109 figure Seeking the Soul earned winning the Stephen Foster Stakes in June. That Foster win is likely one of the reasons Seeking the Soul is favored by the public to win this race. Cutting back from 12 furlongs to 10 furlongs is one factor in Campaign running as well or better in the Pacific Classic as he did in the Cougar. Another is the fact that John Sadler is one of the best trainers on the circuit, if not in North America, in graded stakes dirt routes. A STATS Race Lens query yields over the last five years Sadler has won 28 of 117 starts in these types of races, with 49 percent of those runners finishing in the money as well. As such, Campaign gets top billing to win this year's Pacific Classic.
Quip is another lightly raced horse with tremendous upside potential as we move towards the Breeders' Cup Classic in November. Not only has he won four of nine career starts, we can make cases two of the five he did not win are irrelevant as one was his only try on a sloppy track he did not care for and the other came in a race where he had significant traffic issues. Consistently improving this year from a 100 figure when third in the Hal's Hope Stakes in February to a 105 figure in the Oaklawn Handicap in April, Quip took another big step forward in the Stephen Foster. Facing the much more accomplished Seeking the Soul in that start, Quip battled head-to-head for the lead with Tom's d'Etat for most of the early portions of the race, and then with Seeking the Soul for the length of the stretch before yielding by a neck on the wire. That effort earned a 108 figure and with another step forward, Quip could turn the tables on Seeking the Soul at the least and very possibly run well enough to win.
Seeking the Soul makes his third start since traveling halfway across the world to compete in the Dubai World Cup in March, so he could run even better than when winning the Foster in June with a 109 figure. He earned the same figure in January when well beaten but clearly second in the Pegasus World Cup, and his best effort came in the fall of 2017 when winning the Clark Handicap with a 117 figure. The one question regarding Seeking the Soul winning the Pacific Classic, however, is the same one facing nine of the 10 entrants in the race, as only Tenfold has won at the distance.
Honorable mention and consideration for use on exacta tickets must go to Tenfold, Mongolian Groom and Draft Pick. Tenfold won the 2018 Jim Dandy Stakes at nine furlongs with a 108 figure but what followed was a three-race losing streak before he won the Pimlico Special at the distance of the Pacific Classic in May with a 102 figure. He was ninth in the Foster while never showing a bit of interest but if he rebounds to his Pimlico Special form he can run well. Mongolian Groom and Draft Pick ran well over the track last month in the San Diego Handicap, with winner Catalina Cruiser passing the Classic. Earning 114 and 112 figures, respectively, I can see either or both of these two horses being in the money in the Classic to complete the exacta or trifecta.
The rest of the Pacific Classic field with their best representative Equibase Speed Figures: Pavel (106 in last year's Classic), For the Top (101), Higher Power (112 on Turf) and War Story (108).
Seeking the Soul