Saturday’s $1 million, Grade 1 TVG Pacific Classic Stakes at Del Mar is a Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” race for the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic. Held at 1 ¼ miles on dirt, the Pacific Classic drew a field of nine this year, and it’s a strong group consisting of three recent graded stakes winners and another four who finished in-the-money in their most recent races.
Leading the field in career earnings, with just over $700,000 banked, is the lightly raced 4-year-old Dr Post, who ships in from Todd Pletcher’s summer base at Saratoga off a strong win in the Grade 3 Monmouth Cup Stakes last month. Next in career success and earnings is Express Train, who has earned over $659,000, some of it coming in his win last month in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap. Tripoli was a half-length back in that race in his first ever stakes try and must be respected as a contender. Royal Ship was another three-quarters of a length back in the San Diego, and two races prior to that won the Grade 2 Californian Stakes to prove he belongs at this level. Tizamagician and Cupid’s Claws finished first and second, respectively, in the 1 ½-mile Grade 3 Cougar II Stakes last month and both will attempt to run as well or better shortening up by a quarter-mile. Independence Hall was a top 3-year-old early in 2020 when winning the Jerome Stakes but has only won once in seven races since and was soundly defeated in the Californian when last seen four months ago. Sheriff Brown, a former claiming-level horse, has won six of 21 races lifetime and three of his last five but finished a far back in fifth and seventh in his two recent graded stakes races. Magic On Tap rounds out the field. Winner of the Grade 2 Triple Bend Stakes at seven furlongs in May, Magic On Tap enters the Pacific Classic off a non-threatening fifth-place effort in the San Diego Handicap last month.
Most of the nine entrants in this year’s Pacific Classic have been taking turns beating each other. Express Train beat Tripoli and Royal Ship in the San Diego Handicap last month, but Royal Ship finished in front of Express Train seven weeks earlier when second in the Hollywood Gold Cup at Santa Anita Park. Express Train beat Tizamagician in the San Pasqual Stakes this past January – and then one day after the San Diego Handicap, Tizamagician beat Cupid’s Claws in the Cougar II Stakes. However, Cupid’s Claws had beaten Tizamagician when winning the Tokyo City Cup Stakes last summer. When winning the Californian Stakes in April, Royal Ship beat Independence Hall, and Express Train finished in front of Independence Hall when second in the Malibu Stakes last December. Sheriff Brown was far back in the San Diego, as was Magic On Tap, who also was well beaten by Royal Ship in the Californian.
With all that turn-taking to consider, the 2021 Pacific Classic is ready to be won by a new face. That new face is Dr Post, who boasts a last-race 108 Equibase Speed Figure, the best of his career. That is also the best last-race figure in this field, and it’s a figure that is likely to be improved upon as this will be Dr Post’s second start since adding blinkers as well as his second with Joel Rosario in the saddle. Dr Post made his third start following an eight-month layoff in the Monmouth Cup Stakes last month, run on the same day as the San Diego. He won more easily than the one and 1 ¼-length margin of victory makes it appear as he was “ridden out” in the final stages. Given that his first two races this year were at the distance of a mile around one turn, stretching out to a mile and one-eighth around two turns in the Monmouth Cup sets the stage for an even better effort in the Pacific Classic.
Express Train is the next most probable winner of this year’s Pacific Classic, but unlike Dr Post (who has never run this 1 ¼-mile trip), Express Train is winless in two tries at the distance. His best effort of the two tries came when beaten a half-length in the Santa Anita Handicap in March, when he led by two lengths with an eighth of a mile to go but was caught near the wire. It’s just unclear whether he can run his best at this distance, but coming off a big win in the San Diego Handicap last month with a 107 figure, and having run so well in the Santa Anita Handicap, Express Train has every right to win this race, particularly as he may have the early lead all to himself from the start.
There’s no doubt Royal Ship, Tripoli, Tizamagician and Cupid’s Claws have some chance to win Saturday’s Pacific Classic, but each has one negative factor in my opinion which makes them less probable than the top two win contenders. Royal Ship earned a 113 figure winning the Californian in April and finished in front of Express Train by a 4 ¼ lengths in the Gold Cup (111 figure), but he disappointed badly in the San Diego when a non-threatening third as the betting favorite with no excuse. Tripoli earned a 109 figure in a June 19 allowance race and nearly duplicated the effort when second to Express Train in the San Diego Handicap, but the five-pound weight difference between the two is not in effect here and there’s no indication he wants to run this far, having never run farther than 1 1/16 miles on dirt. Tizamagician (career-best 106 winning figure) and Cupid’s Claws (career-best 100 winning figure) both sport graded stakes wins at a mile and a half, but that doesn’t mean they can run this well at the classic distance of 1 ¼ miles.
The rest of the field, with their best Equibase Speed Figures, is Independence Hall (110), Magic On Tap (106) and Sheriff Brown (104).