Saturday’s $500,000, Grade 1 TVG Pacific Classic at Del Mar is the premier West Coast prep race for the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic and is part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” Series, offering an automatic berth to the signature race at the World Championships.
The Pacific Classic winner earns a fees-paid berth to the Nov. 7 Longines Classic at Keeneland, and winners of Del Mar’s 1 ¼-mile event have figured prominently in the Breeders’ Cup Classic through the years, with Accelerate winning both races in 2018.
The 30th Pacific Classic drew a field of six, headlined by 2019 champion 3-year-old male Maximum Security, who won the local prep for this race, the San Diego Handicap, last month; and 2019 Pacific Classic winner Higher Power.
The Pacific Classic will be shown live on TVG as part of their comprehensive onsite coverage of racing at Del Mar, and has a scheduled post time of 9:30 p.m. ET. For more information about TV/radio/live streaming coverage for this week, click here.
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Whether you want to gamble a few bucks on the race or you just want the scoop on this year’s runners, we’ve got you covered with our 2020 TVG Pacific Classic Cheat Sheet.
Jockey: Victor Espinoza
Trainer: John Shirreffs
Owner: C R K Stable
Career record: 12 starts – 5 wins – 2 seconds – 2 thirds
Career earnings: $450,695
Earnings per start: $37,558
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 112
Pedigree: Midnight Lute – Mayo On the Side, by French Deputy
Color: Dark bay or brown
Running style: Stalker
Notable achievements and interesting facts: After a puzzling no-show effort in the Hollywood Gold Cup at Santa Anita Park back in June, Midcourt rebounded to nearly upset Maximum Security in his most recent start, the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar on July 25. He set the pace in the 1 1/8-mile San Diego and dueled tenaciously with Maximum Security through the stretch, losing by a nose. The Midnight Lute gelding matured into a multiple stakes winner in late 2019 and early 2020, winning five of seven races through the fall, winter, and spring and nearly taking the Santa Anita Handicap in March. He was eased in the Gold Cup after hopping at the start, and his effort in the San Diego is more indicative of his overall form. Midcourt should be positioned with Maximum Security once again among the front rank of horses in the Pacific Classic, and he’s a logical horse to use with that favorite in exacta bets. Overall, however, Maximum Security has faced better horses than Midcourt through their respective careers, and Midcourt will need a career-best performance to win this prestigious Grade 1 race. Lee and Susan Searing’s C R K Stable has twice finished second in the Pacific Classic, with Kettle Corn in 2013 and Draft Pick last year. Hall of Fame rider Victor Espinoza won the 2016 Pacific Classic on fan favorite California Chrome; he has also finished second twice and third twice.
2. Higher Power
Jockey: Flavien Prat
Trainer: John Sadler
Owner: Hronis Racing
Career record: 18 starts – 5 wins – 2 seconds – 7 thirds
Career earnings: $1,504,648
Earnings per start: $83,592
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 115
Pedigree: Medaglia d’Oro – Alternate, by Seattle Slew
Running style: Stalker
Notable achievements and interesting facts: Higher Power returns Saturday to the site of his coming-out party as a top-level racehorse, striving for a repeat bid in the Pacific Classic after winning last year’s 29th edition at odds of 9.60-1. He entered the 2019 Pacific Classic having improved his form after being bought by Hronis Racing and moved to California and transferred to trainer John Sadler. Higher Power put it all together on Del Mar’s biggest stage, taking command on the far turn of the Pacific Classic and rolling to a 5 ¼-length win. In his five starts since then, Higher Power has continued to compete in major races, finishing second in this year’s Hollywood Gold Cup at Santa Anita and third in three other graded stakes. Most recently, he checked in third behind Maximum Security and Midcourt in the San Diego Handicap July 25 at Del Mar, defeated by 6 ¼ lengths. That’s a lot of ground to make up against both of those foes who return for Saturday’s Pacific Classic, but Higher Power will have an extra eighth of a mile to work with. Look for jockey Flavien Prat, who was aboard Higher Power for last year’s win, to keep him in touch with both Maximum Security and Midcourt Saturday and perhaps make another aggressive bid for the lead early in the far turn as he did in his 2019 triumph. Prat’s first Pacific Classic win came last year; he also finished second aboard Catch a Flight in 2015. John Sadler and Hronis Racing are seeking their third consecutive Pacific Classic win, following Accelerate’s score in 2018 and Higher Power’s victory last year.
Jockey: Tiago Pereira
Trainer: Maria Munoz
Owner: Parque Patricios Racing Stables
Career record: 9 starts – 4 wins – 4 seconds – 0 thirds
Career earnings: $302,896
Earnings per start: $33,655
Top Equibase Speed Figure: n/a
Pedigree: Hurricane Cat – Langostura, by Honour and Glory
Color: Gray or roan
Running style: Closer
Notable achievements and interesting facts: This Argentine-bred and based horse makes his North American debut Saturday and faces a very tough assignment. He has tallied two top-level wins in his home country on dirt, including a race at 1 9/16 miles, but his two most recent starts – both second-place finishes – have come on turf. Furthermore, he’s a deep closer who’ll be facing a compact field in the Pacific Classic with one horse in particular – Maximum Security – who has a proven ability to carry elite speed for a mile and a quarter. Mirinaque has been training steadily at Del Mar this summer for Argentine trainer Maria Munoz. Munoz brought Ever Rider to the U.S. in 2014 and finished fourth in two graded stakes. That would appear to be Mirinaque’s ceiling as well in Saturday’s Pacific Classic, although it’s certain that Munoz and owner Parque Patricios Racing Stables have aspirations of matching a prior Argentine-bred horse’s accomplishments in 2003… when Candy Ride set a stakes and track record in an overpowering Pacific Classic victory.
4. Dark Vader
Jockey: Umberto Rispoli
Trainer: Peter Eurton
Career record: 13 starts – 3 wins – 3 seconds – 3 thirds
Career earnings: $275,645
Earnings per start: $21,203
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 114
Pedigree: Tale of Ekati – Dark Obsession, by Grand Slam
Color: Dark bay or brown
Running style: Press the pace/stalker
Notable achievements and interesting facts: Dark Vader enters the Pacific Classic having built up a successful career through 13 starts without ever breaking through for a stakes win, and he’ll be hard pressed to do that Saturday. He’s raced twice in 2020, debuting with a decent third-place effort behind McKinzie in the seven-furlong Triple Bend Stakes at Santa Anita in June and then winning a one-mile allowance-optional claiming race at Del Mar on July 25. He only raced twice last year as well, nearly wining the 1 1/8-mile Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap last summer in arguably the best race of his career. If he can keep up his good form, Dark Vader has a chance to rally late and pick up a share of the purse Saturday, but he’s a longshot to win. Rising star jockey Umberto Rispoli was aboard for Dark Vader’s recent win and keeps the mount for his Pacific Classic debut. Trainer Peter Eurton finished second in last year’s Pacific Classic with Draft Pick.
Jockey: Abel Cedillo
Trainer: Bob Baffert
Career record: 11 starts – 9 wins – 1 second – 0 thirds
Career earnings: $11,891,900
Earnings per start: $1,081,082
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 123
Pedigree: New Year’s Day – Lil Indy, by Anasheed
Running style: Pacesetter/press the pace
Notable achievements and interesting facts: Maximum Security made his first start for new trainer Bob Baffert a successful one, winning the July 25 San Diego Handicap over Midcourt. But it was not without several seconds of high tension as the 2-5 favorite drifted out in the stretch and could not put away his pacesetting rival, prevailing by a very hard-fought nose. Truthfully, Maximum Security had every reason to show some rust in the San Diego, having been transferred by co-owners Gary and Mary West from embattled trainer Jason Servis to Baffert following Maximum Security’s win in the inaugural Saudi Cup on Feb. 29, where he defeated a stellar field including runner-up Midnight Bisou and Baffert-trained Mucho Gusto. Hall of Famer Baffert said after the San Diego that he did not have the horse cranked up to full ability for that race and was looking ahead to the Pacific Classic, and since then he’s told reporters that he has been very impressed with the way his charge has been training. If that’s true and this colt unleashes a performance on par with his 2019 wins in the TVG.com Haskell Stakes and Cigar Mile (to say nothing of his first-place finish before being disqualified in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve), the other five contenders in Saturday’s race will be competing for second. Abel Cedillo retains the mount on Maximum Security after the San Diego as regular rider Luis Saez is staying at Saratoga due to COVID-19 restrictions. Cedillo finished third in last year’s Pacific Classic on Mongolian Groom. Baffert has won five Pacific Classics through the years (second most in the race’s history behind Bobby Frankel’s six) with: General Challenge (1999); Richard’s Kid (2009, 2010); Game On Dude (2013); and Collected (2017).
Jockey: Juan Hernandez
Trainer: Mark Glatt
Career record: 20 starts – 8 wins – 4 seconds – 2 thirds
Career earnings: $881,270
Earnings per start: $44,064
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 122
Pedigree: First Samurai – Secret Wish, by Street Cry
Running style: Stalker/closer
Notable achievements and interesting facts: A multiple Grade 2 winner on turf, Sharp Samurai will be making his first start on dirt since March 2017 on Saturday. He’s been one of the better grass horses in California since summer 2017, although his form has slipped slightly in 2019-’20 as he’s not won a race over that span while finishing no worse than fourth through six starts. He enters the Pacific Classic off of a good runner-up finish to United in the Grade 2 Eddie Read Stakes at Del Mar on July 26, losing by half-length after rallying late. Overall, this gelding has performed best in one-mile races and, as already noted, on turf, which makes him an outsider competing against the likes of Maximum Security, Higher Power, and Midcourt in Saturday’s race. Still, his Equibase Speed Figures are very consistent and compare favorably with those contenders, and if he can make a successful transition back to dirt after such a long absence, Sharp Samurai could hit the board in the Pacific Classic. It's worth noting that he was originally entered in the San Diego Handicap on July 25 (won by Maximum Security) but was scratched out of that race and started in the Eddie Read instead. Trainer Mark Glatt and jockey Juan Hernandez (who was aboard in the Eddie Read) will be making their Pacific Classic debuts Saturday.