The first time Kosta Hronis tried to name a horse Tripoli for his father's hometown in Greece, the name wasn't available.
Hronis, who likes to name horses for family connections, tried a second time with the son of Kitten's Joy. And Tripoli made the wait worth it Aug. 21 by scoring in the $1 million, Grade 1 TVG Pacific Classic Stakes at Del Mar.
John Sadler, who has trained the Hronis Racing horses since they became involved in racing, saddled Tripoli. The victory gave the Hronis/Sadler combination its third Pacific Classic in four years, following back-to-back wins by Accelerate in 2018 and Higher Power in 2019.
When the field of nine broke out of the gate for the 1 ¼-mile Pacific Classic, the crowd of 12,655 roared, especially the many with microshares in Tizamagician, co-owned by MyRacehorse and the late B. Wayne Hughes' Spendthrift Farm. Tizamagician surged to the front shortly after the start and led the field down the stretch the first time and around the first turn, completing the first quarter-mile in :23.52 and a half-mile in :46.98.
Tripoli actually broke on top, but jockey Tiago Pereira let Tizamagician set the pace and settled Tripoli into third. That put Tripoli on the rail, saving ground, until Pereira felt they needed to start their run.
"I was okay running right behind the leaders," said Pereira. "When it was time to run, I had plenty of horse."
Pereira shifted Tripoli slightly off the rail approaching the quarter pole, the better to run down Tizamagician. Tripoli grabbed the lead nearing the eighth pole. Tizamagician valiantly tried to stay with him, urged on by his many owners. But Tripoli had plenty left to defeat Tizamagician by 1 ¼ lengths in a final time of 2:02.37. He was sent off at odds of 6.50-1, the fourth betting choice in a competitive field.
"He broke on his feet, so (Pereira) was able to tuck him in there and he looked comfortable all the way around," said Sadler. "He had a perfect trip – give the rider a lot of credit. He rode him perfectly."
Adding to the thrill of Tripoli's victory is the fact that he began his career as a turf runner. His first 11 races came on the turf, with two wins, two seconds, and three thirds, but none in stakes company. One of those wins came May 1 in a Santa Anita Park allowance race, the same day that Hronis and Sadler had Rock Your World in the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve. Rock Your World lost all chance when he was jostled at the start and jockey Joel Rosario momentarily lost an iron. Rock Your World finished 17th.
Following that allowance win, Sadler called an audible and switched Tripoli to the dirt.
"We'd had a little luck with another horse called Heywoods Beach," Sadler said. "He'd run well on the grass, and we switched him to the dirt and he won nicely. When we're at Santa Anita for a long time, they don't let you breeze on the grass. So these turf horses train a lot on dirt. It was worth giving him a try on dirt because it gives you twice as many races."
Tripoli responded with a smart victory June 19 in allowance optional claimer at Santa Anita. When the circuit moved to Del Mar, Sadler entered him in the July 17 San Diego Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on the dirt. The colt raced wide into the lane and finished a close second to Express Train. Express Train finished sixth in the Pacific Classic as the 2.40-1 favorite.
With a signature Pacific Classic victory, Tripoli boosted his earnings to $811,960 and punched his ticket for the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Del Mar established a new single-day betting mark Saturday when $36,005,613 was wagered on its 11-race card, smashing the old mark of $25,870,431 set on TVG Pacific Classic Day in 2018. –Tracy Gantz
Astronaut Runs Out of This World in Del Mar Handicap
John M. B. O'Connor's Astronaut remained a maiden after four races as late as this winter, and eligible for a first-level allowance this summer after eight starts. But now, after his ninth race, he's eligible for one of the richest turf races in the world – the $4 million, Grade 1 Longines Breeders' Cup Turf at Del Mar Nov. 6.
The 4-year-old Quality Road colt earned an automatic paid berth in the latter race with a 24-1 upset in the $302,500, Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap Presented by Japan Racing Association to close out the TVG Pacific Classic card on Aug. 21. The Del Mar Handicap served as a designated "Win and You're In" race as part of the Breeders' Cup Challenge Series.
Drawn toward the outside in post 10, Astronaut was wide for most of the race's three turns in the 1 3/8-mile turf contest, though he never had his momentum stalled at any point, unlike some key rivals.
Seventh early, as Acclimate shot to the lead with splits of :25.24, :49.25, 1:14.28, and 1:39.32, Astronaut kicked into gear with a four-wide advance leaving the final turn, and took the lead from Acclimate just inside the final sixteenth. He then repelled a late bid from Master Piece to prevail by a half-length.
The latter, making his first start in Southern California for trainer Michael McCarthy after initially racing in South America and later on the East Coast, rallied quickest down the stretch to settle for the runner-up position at odds of 22.90-1.
Pacesetting Acclimate lasted for third by a nose over 2.30-1 favorite United, who settled for fourth after he was stymied in traffic until the final furlong. Red King and Say the Word finished in a dead heat for fifth.
The winner covered the distance on firm turf in 2:15.97 under Victor Espinoza. The colt carried 117 pounds, eight less than highweight United.
"I know my odds didn't look it, but in my mind, I had a chance to win the race," Espinoza told TVG. "He was very impressive."
Saturday's race marked Astronaut’s sixth consecutive top-two finish since joining the stable of trainer John Shirreffs. The Del Mar Handicap was just his second stakes start following a second to front-running Acclimate in the San Juan Capistrano Stakes at Santa Anita Park June 19, a race in which Espinoza dropped his riding crop in midstretch.
"I never had a chance to catch the one in the front, but today, I changed a little bit," Espinoza said. "I had to study. I mean, come on, for $300,000, I had to study a little bit harder."
Shirreffs won the Del Mar Handicap for the second time after first taking it with After Market in 2007. Espinoza notched his third win in the race after guiding Vagabond Shoes to victory in 2013 and Celtic New Year in 2011.
"That was amazing, wasn't it? I told Victor in the paddock, 'We're gonna need a little magic,'" Shirreffs told TVG. "But he got a lot of magic."–Byron King