2022 TVG Pacific Classic Cheat Sheet: Get to Know the Horses

Racing
Flightline, shown dominating the Metropolitan Handicap June 11, is expected to be heavily favored to win the Pacific Classic Sept. 3 at Del Mar. (Ryan Thompson/NYRA)

The $1 million TVG Pacific Classic Stakes represents the signature race of the Del Mar summer meet as well as one of the more important races in the chase for Eclipse Awards across multiple divisions such as champion older dirt male and Horse of the Year as well as champion 3-year-old male, on occasion.

The Pacific Classic Stakes has been a marquee race of summer since its inaugural running won by Best Pal in 1991. Other notable winners include Candy Ride (2003), Lava Man (2006), Game On Dude (2013), Shared Belief (2014), Beholder (2015), California Chrome (2016), and Accelerate (2018).

This year’s renewal of the Pacific Classic, set for Saturday Sept. 3, is part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” series. The winner of the Pacific Classic will earn an expenses-paid spot in the starting gate for the $6 million Longines’ Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland on Nov. 5. One horse has pulled off the Pacific Classic-Breeders’ Cup Classic double, Accelerate in 2018.

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The race will be televised on FanDuel TV (formerly TVG). Let’s take a look at this year’s Pacific Classic field. 


BENOIT photo

1. Extra Hope (30-1 morning-line odds)

Jockey: Tyler Baze

Trainer: Richard Mandella

Owners: Jay Em Ess Stable

Career record: 21 starts – 4 wins – 3 seconds – 4 thirds

Career earnings: $326,681

Earnings per start: $15,556

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 111

Pedigree: Shanghai Bobby – Lotsandlotsofhope, by Tiznow

Age: 6

Color: Bay

Running style: Press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: He’s shown improvement in his two most recent starts, finishing third last time out to Heywoods Beach and Tizamagician in the 1 ½-mile Cougar II Stakes on July 24 at Del Mar. But Extra Hope is winless in his last seven races following his breakthrough graded stakes win in the Grade 3 Native Diver Stakes in November 2020. That is no recipe for success heading into what appears to be the toughest assignment, by far, of his career to date. He should play a role in how the Pacific Classic develops as he has tactical speed, but his best outcome, even against only five opponents, probably is filling out the superfecta or the trifecta in a dream scenario. One factor in Extra Hope’s favor is his Hall of Fame trainer, Richard Mandella, who has won this race four times, including a 39.60-1 upset by Dare and Go over future Hall of Famer Cigar in 1996. Mandella’s other Pacific Classic wins came with Gentleman (1997), Pleasantly Perfect (2004), and the champion filly Beholder (2015). Jockey Tyler Baze finished third in the 2003 Pacific Classic on Fleetstreet Dancer.

Bet Extra Hope in the Pacific Classic


Eclipse Sportswire

2. Country Grammer (4-1)

Jockey: John Velazquez

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Owners: Commonwealth Thoroughbreds, WinStar Farm, and Zedan Racing Stables

Career record: 11 starts – 4 wins – 3 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $10,897,320

Earnings per start: $990,665

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 110

Pedigree: Tonalist – Arabian Song, by Forestry

Age: 5

Color: Bay

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: For all of the discussion about the best horses in training in the United States, specifically in the older dirt male division, much of the buzz in 2022 has surrounded Flightline and Life Is Good (and earlier in the season Olympiad). Country Grammer has sort of flown under the radar, perhaps because his two best races of the year came in the Middle East in the winter-spring, but make no mistake this is a classy 5-year-old capable of an elite race on the biggest stage. He finished second in the $20 million Saudi Cup in February and reeled in Life Is Good in the stretch of the $12 million Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline en route to a smashing 1 ¾-length score on March 26. Country Grammer was not as sharp in his return race after the trip to Dubai and four months off, running a well-beaten second to Royal Ship in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap July 30 on this main track at Del Mar. But shipping to the Middle East is a big ask of a racehorse and some need a little longer to regain their top form. Country Grammer is eligible to take a step forward and his two best races to date have come at this 1 ¼-mile distance. Flightline looks like a formidable rising star, but should he lack his usual punch Country Grammer would be a logical pick to hand him his first career defeat. Trainer Bob Baffert has won the Pacific Classic six times previously with General Challenge (1999), Richard’s Kid (2009, 2010), Game On Dude (2013), Collected (2017), and Maximum Security (2020), tied with Bobby Frankel for the most wins in the race. Co-owner WinStar Farm finished second with Well Armed in the 2008 Pacific Classic.

Bet Country Grammer in the Pacific Classic


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3. Royal Ship (8-1)

Jockey: Mike Smith

Trainer: Richard Mandella

Owners: Fox Hill Farms and Siena Farm

Career record: 18 starts – 8 wins – 2 seconds – 4 thirds

Career earnings: $570,405

Earnings per start: $31,689

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 110

Pedigree: Midshipman – Bela Val, by Val Royal

Age: 6

Color: Bay

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: I was not particularly high on Royal Ship entering the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap July 30 because he was winless in three previous starts on the main track at Del Mar with only a third-place finish to show from those races. But the San Diego served as a reminder that horse racing is unpredictable, talent often prevails, and sometimes preferences change with time as Royal Ship delivered a dominant 2 ¼-length victory and equaled a career-top 110 Equibase Speed Figure. He’s a consistent runner in the care of a Hall of Fame trainer – his lone bad race since the start of 2021 came in last year’s Pacific Classic – and he’s in great form entering his fourth start of the year following a 7 ½-month layoff. Royal Ship and fellow Pacific Classic hopeful Country Grammer have had some good battles in recent years with Royal Ship prevailing twice and Country Grammer getting the better of Royal Ship in the 2021 Hollywood Gold Cup. Neither has run a race as fast as Flightline, who is expected to be an overwhelming favorite, but should he struggle at 1 ¼ miles Royal Ship and Country Grammer would be the most likely beneficiaries. Trainer Richard Mandella has won this race four times with Dare and Go (1996), Gentleman (1997), Pleasantly Perfect (2004), and Beholder (2015); Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith also has four wins in the race: Came Home (2002), Richard’s Kid (2009, 2010), and Shared Belief (2014).

Bet Royal Ship in the Pacific Classic


Eclipse Sportswire

4. Express Train (12-1)

Jockey: Victor Espinoza

Trainer: John Shirreffs

Owner: C R K Stable

Career record: 18 starts – 7 wins – 5 seconds – 3 thirds

Career earnings: $1,365,800

Earnings per start: $75,878

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 110

Pedigree: Union Rags – I'm a Flake, by Mineshaft

Age: 5

Color: Bay

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: A versatile and consistent 5-year-old, Express Train was in peak form over the winter when he won graded stakes in December and February before extending his winning streak to three with his first career Grade 1 win in the Santa Anita Handicap Presented by Yaamava' Resort & Casino March 5 at Santa Anita Park. After a runner-up finish to Stiletto Boy in the Grade 2 Californian Stakes in April, he was given a freshening but has worked steadily since mid-June for his return. While Express Train was sixth in last year’s Pacific Classic, he has recorded three wins and a second in his other four races on the dirt main track at Del Mar, including earning a career-top 110 Equibase Speed Figure for a win in the 2021 San Diego Handicap. He has not run as fast on paper as some of the other contenders for this year’s Pacific Classic, but Express Train has been first or second in 12 of his 18 lifetime starts so you can usually count on a strong effort. Jockey Victor Espinoza won the Pacific Classic in 2016 on California Chrome; owner C R K Stable finished second in the Pacific Classic with Kettle Corn (2013) and Draft Pick (2019).

Bet Express Train in the Pacific Classic


Eclipse Sportswire

5. Flightline (1-5)

Jockey: Flavien Prat

Trainer: John Sadler

Owners: Hronis Racing, Siena Farm, Summer Wind Equine, West Point Thoroughbreds, and Woodford Racing

Career record: 4 starts – 4 wins – 0 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $794,800

Earnings per start: $198,700

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 127

Pedigree: Tapit – Feathered, by Indian Charlie

Age: 4

Color: Bay

Running style: Pacesetter/Press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: You can make a compelling argument that Flightline is the fastest and most talented Thoroughbred racehorse in the U.S. … and possibly on the planet. People who have watched his races know that isn’t hyperbole. When Flightline has stepped hoof onto racetrack special things have happened. He won the Hill ‘N’ Dale Metropolitan Handicap by six lengths despite a slow start and early trouble, covering the distance in an eye-catching 1:33.59, and that was the smallest margin of victory in any of his four races to date. He won the other three by a combined margin of 27 ½ lengths. The truth is, if Flightline can carry his speed 1 ¼ miles everyone else is running for second in the Pacific Classic, but distance has to be a concern given one mile is the longest race he has competed in to date. He has never started in a race that required him to run around two turns, so until he proves he can do it there is a glimmer of hope for his opposition in here. Of course, Flightline’s pedigree offers reason for optimism as far as his chances to thrive in longer races: he’s by leading sire Tapit, sire of four of the last nine Belmont Stakes winners, and out of Feathered, a graded stakes winner at 1 1/16 miles who ran second by less than a length in the Grade 1, 1 ¼-mile American Oaks. Trainer John Sadler has won the Pacific Classic three times in the last four years with Accelerate (2018), Higher Power (2019), and Tripoli (2021), all for Hronis Racing, one of Flightline’s co-owners. Another part-owner, West Point Thoroughbreds, finished second in the 2007 Pacific Classic as co-owner of Awesome Gem. Flightline’s jockey, Flavien Prat, was aboard for Higher Power’s victory in the 2019 Pacific Classic.

Bet Flightline in the Pacific Classic


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6. Stilleto Boy (20-1)

Jockey: Juan Hernandez

Trainer: Ed Moger Jr.

Owners: Steve Moger

Career record: 17 starts – 3 wins – 3 seconds – 7 thirds

Career earnings: $1,091,175

Earnings per start: $64,187

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 117

Pedigree: Shackleford – Rosie’s Ransom, by Marquetry

Age: 4

Color: Chestnut

Running style: Stalker/Press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Stilleto Boy has kept terrific company in making six of his last eight starts in Grade 1 races with the other two starts in Grade 2 races, but he has only one victory to show for that challenging stretch, a win in the Grade 2 Californian Stakes back in April of this year. Stilleto Boy has four third-place finishes over that span plus a second in the Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes last fall, but he’s a bit inconsistent and he also is winless in three starts on the main track at Del Mar and 0-for-3 at this 1 ¼-mile distance. This looks like another incredibly tough assignment for Stilleto Boy but he has a chance to round out the trifecta or superfecta with a big effort. Jockey Juan Hernandez finished second in the 2020 Pacific Classic aboard Sharp Samurai.

Bet Stilleto Boy in the Pacific Classic

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