The Pacific Classic is not only one of the biggest day of Thoroughbred racing on the West Coast’s summer schedule, but it’s also a fantastic barometer of the competition that’s coming when the Breeders’ Cup World Championships take place on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 this fall.
Pacific Classic day at Del Mar includes three top-notch stakes races, including two Breeders’ Cup "Win and You’re In" races. That means that the some of the best racehorses in the nation show up where the surf meets the turf to battle it out in a quest to win an automatic ticket to the year-end World Championships, and it also means that the Southern California summer gets even hotter with the blistering competition taking place at Del Mar.
When I arrived at Del Mar on Pacific Classic morning, the place was already hopping despite the fact that there were still a few hours until the first race. The weather was perfect, and the track was giving away some very fetching T-shirts to those who paid for entry, so Del Mar was the place to be on Sunday morning for any fan of horses, sun, surf, fun or free stuff. In other words: for everyone!
And those who came to Del Mar for Pacific Classic day were in for a treat: Sunday was truly a stunning afternoon, and the entire facility was sparkling on honor of the track’s biggest race day of the year.
When I say that it was a picture-perfect day, I meant it: famed horse racing artist Peter Williams was even present, creating a masterpiece from the Del Mar paddock.
There were some major goodies for the day also on display: check out this hardware, which was to be awarded to the winning connections of the big races that afternoon! I mean, if the victorious owners and trainers don’t want to keep those for any reason, I am more than willing to give them a good home.
I also saw some very stylish people at the track, making the most of a beautiful afternoon by putting their very best fashion foot forward.
TVG’s Britney Eurton
The stars were also out to play at Del Mar on Sunday; here’s Sports Illustrated’s Genevieve Morton finding a winner in the paddock:
I also saw ESPN’s Kenny Mayne, who was happily posing with fans in the crowd for photos and selfies. He seems like an awesome guy, and I get a little fan-girly every time I see him at the track.
The fun of Pacific Classic day isn’t just limited to stargazing and style; this year, there was also a craft beef festival in Del Mar’s concert area, which included local brews and delicious imports. I also spotted something called “craft beer cupcakes” – I think I had the only rational reaction to whatever they are:
Craft beer cupcakes at @DelMarRacing?! What is this sorcery and how do I get involved? pic.twitter.com/l0yVqRgBMp
— Penelope P. Miller (@PenelopePMiller) August 24, 2014
I mean, look at these things! I need to eat one someday soon.
While the entire craft beer festival was packed, I was definitely impressed with the fact that the longest line in the area was the line to bet. San Diego, you have your priorities in order. I salute you!
One of the races I was excited to see early on in the day was the second event of the afternoon. That’s because Zenyatta’s little half-sister Eblouissante was running. While she may not have the same amount of talent as her older sibling, she’s still a beautiful mare and it was wonderful to see so many people out so early in the afternoon to just catch sight of her.
While she didn’t run very well on Sunday, she still emerged from the race in good health and as the crowd favorite, and I wish her and her human counterparts the best of luck in their future endeavors.
Before I knew it, it was post time for the first major race of the day: the Del Mar Mile. As I waited for the horses to appear on the racetrack to approach the starting gate, Del Mar’s track bugler put in a very stylish “Call to the Post.” Seriously: that guy has major stage presence!
Then it was time for the Del Mar Mile. While there was a talented field lined up to compete for the $250,000 in prize money, it was Tom’s Tribute who put in a stellar performance to take home the win.
Trainer James Cassidy had the best smile on his face after the race as he was interviewed by TVG’s anchor Simon Bray. The horse is names for a dear friend of his who passed away recently, so I’m sure the victory was all the more poignant for him in the moments after the race.
Tom’s Tribute and jockey Mike Smith looked just as happy as they returned from their victory, and it was a delighted scene in the Del Mar Mile winner’s circle as the horse and his humans were reunited to get their victory photo taken.
There was a little time between the Del Mar Mile and the next major race, the Pat O’Brien. In the interim, fans were treated to an amazing doo-wop version of Bing Crosby’s “Where the Turf Meets the Surf,” which is Del Mar’s tune. The group that performed the number was just spectacular, singing the whole song a capella.
When they finished, they were met with raucous cheers from the crowd. I think they knew they were appreciated!
Before I knew it, it was time for the next major even on the afternoon’s program: the Pat O’Brien Stakes. The winner of this race would gain an automatic berth into the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, so there was a huge amount at stake (get it?) aside from the race’s quarter-million dollar purse. The horses congregated in the paddock for the race were a truly talented bunch, and included last year’s Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner (and my Twitter buddy – Goldencents, perennial Del Mar powerhouse Fed Biz, and the breathtakingly beautiful Silentio.
As I was in the paddock taking photos and trying to decide who would win the race, I ran into my dear friend Andrea Mandella. We realized immediately that, being the kindred spirits that we are, we had worn the exact same color scheme in our footwear for Pacific Classic Day. I’m not giving anything away here, but I hope you can guess whose feet are whose in the photo below.
Love that girl!
Before I knew it, it was time for the Pat O’Brien to start. As the horses leapt out of the starting gate, the crowd was on its feet and cheering for the field of talented Thoroughbreds as they embarked on the biggest race of their season thus far.
But after seven-eighths of a mile, it was last year’s Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile champ Goldencents who showed his competitors who was boss. The 4-year-old colt won like the pro that he is; and as he galloped back to the winner’s circle, his human caretakers celebrated the victory with glee.
Then, it was time for the big show: the Pacific Classic. The winner of this race not only takes home the lion’s share of the $1 million purse, but also wins a trip to the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park on November 1. So it was no surprise that some of the most talented horses in the nation were at Del Mar for an attempt at glory – and there was certainly glory at stake. Sports radio personality Jim Rome’s precocious Shared Belief, who was crowned the champion 2-year-old male of 2013, was set to take on older horses in the Pacific Classic.
Among them was last year’s winner and West Coast hero Game On Dude, who is co-owned by New York Yankees Hall of Fame manager Joe Torre.
Majestic Harbor was garnering a ton of buzz in the days leading up to the race, and as he passed me in the paddock he certainly had a glint in his eye.
The race was shaping up to be a clash of the California titans, and as the horses circled the paddock to parade for fans, people were packed to the rafters to get the best view possible of the Pacific Classic contenders.
Of course, the horses aren’t the only ones on parade at the races! My awesome friend Molly McGill was walking in as I was staking out my area for photos; after I squealed, “Yayyyyyy, Molly!” this is the reaction I got:
Then it was time for the post parade, when the Pacific Classic runners and their jockeys would promenade in front of the grandstand, allowing fans to get a glimpse of them before the start of the race. As track announcer Trevor Denman called each horse’s name and connections, the crowd cheered its appreciation. The horses who garnered the biggest responses were Game On Dude and Shared Belief, and each Thoroughbred and his rider seemed energized by the attention.
As the horses made their way to the starting gate, the crowd pressed as closely as possible to the railing in order to secure the best position to watch the biggest race of Del Mar’s calendar.
And as the Thoroughbreds sprang out of the gate, the crowd was in for a huge treat. Hometown hero Game On Dude battled for the lead with Mystery Train throughout the early part of the race, and for a while it looked like the old guy may be able to repeat last year’s victory.
But as the horses rounded the turn for home, it was 3-year-old Shared Belief who dominated the Pacific Classic field to become the first horse to ever win the Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male and the Pacific Classic in his 3-year-old season.
There was a brief moment of anxiety for Shared Belief’s connections immediately following the race when the judges reviewed the stretch run to make sure that there was no interference; however, it was clear that Shared Belief won the race without interfering with any other horses, and his human connections were there to greet him and jockey Mike Smith to celebrate the victory.
Owner Jim Rome looked so thrilled with Shared Belief’s win – it’s funny to think that a few years ago, Rome was one of horse racing’s biggest detractors; but now that he’s come to know the sport and the amazing athletes that take part in it, he’s become one of racing’s biggest proponents. And justifiably so: Rome has campaigned two-time Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Mizdirection and now has one of the most talented 3-year-olds in the nation representing him in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. In fact, it’s going to be Rome vs. Chrome in the year-end Championships as Shared Belief takes on Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
What a race that’s going to be!
As I sit on the plane heading back to New York reflecting on an amazing Pacific Classic weekend at Del Mar, I realize that I have only one huge problem in my life (aside from what seems to be an eternal wait until the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 1) – I have to wait a whole year until I get to use my press credentials at Del Mar again!
If you live in California or can travel, I urge you to make your way to where the turf meets the surf this weekend for the racing action. You won’t regret it!
Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll be back again in a few weeks for all of the action out of Toronto for the Woodbine Mile! Until then, I’ll leave you with a few more snapshots of Del Mar and Pacific Classic day.