Race of the Week: Pacific Classic
August 18, 2018
by Joe Wulffe
Saturday August 18th: Race 10 at Del Mar. The $1,000,000 Grade 1 TVG Pacific Classic Stakes run at 1 ¼ miles on the dirt for three year olds and upward. (Post Time: 9:43 EDT).
(5) Accelerate: John Sadler sends out this five year old son of Lookin at Lucky hoping to continue their recent dominance of the country’s older male division. Simply put, Accelerate is the horse to beat in this race. Not only does he hold a clear class advantage over the rest of the field, but the 111 Bris Speed Rating (BSR) that he earned in his last outing at ten furlongs is much better than any speed figure produced by any of his rivals. In fact, Accelerate is the only horse entered into this year’s edition of the TVG Pacific Classic that has been able to put together three consecutively increasing triple digit BSRs this year. Accelerate had originally been spotted to run in last month’s eight and a half furlong San Diego Handicap (G2), but Sadler was not satisfied with how his charge had been working out coming into that race, so he scratched Accelerate and gave him an additional month off to continue to prepare for this race It should be noted that Accelerate has relished running both at Del Mar (where he has won three of his five starts) as well as at ten furlongs (in which he has hit the board in all three tries at the distance). Although Accelerate comes into this race off a nearly three month layoff, it appears that Sadler should have him ready to fire off another fine effort on Saturday.
Thus far at Del Mar, Sadler has been doing fairly well, as he is currently winning at a 19% rate. Over the past three years Sadler has enjoyed success not only when entering his trainees into graded stakes races, but also with horses that won their last race, as he boasts a 17% win rate for both those conditions. However, Sadler has done just alright with getting his runners to fire coming in off of layoffs of 45-90 days away, as he is winning 15% of races under that condition.
There will be an unfamiliar jockey onboard Accelerate on Saturday, as Sadler was forced to find a replacement for the currently sidelined Victor Espinoza. Thus he decided to bring in Joel Rosario, who has enjoyed success in the past when riding for Sadler. Rosario has done fairly well this year when racing at route distances as he is currently winning at a 16% rate. In addition, Rosario has been winning 18% of his 380 starts so far when riding E/P type horses such as Accelerate.
Accelerate’s preferred running style is that of a pace stalker. He has exceptional tactical speed and a wonderful stalking gear that allows him to sit just several lengths off of his rivals throughout the early portions of a race before striking for the front in the final turn and then putting away any remaining rivals down the stretch with an excellent closing kick. Now there appear to be several horses entered into this field that possess good early speed and will likely be forwardly placed setting the initial fractions and this should create an ideal pace scenario for Accelerate to stalk. However, with an new pilot in the irons on Saturday, it would behoove Rosario to keep his charge well positioned and out of traffic early on, thus allowing Accelerate the best possible opportunity to be able to challenge for the lead. As mentioned earlier, Sadler had been unsatisfied with the way Accelerate was working leading into the San Diego Handicap and thus withdrew him from that race. However, since then Accelerate’s four most recent works, all at five furlongs or further, have all been particularly sharp and should serve as a good indicator that he is in prime form.
Accelerate is the most accomplished runner in this field for the Pacific Classic and time after time he has demonstrated outstanding versatility and proven himself against some of the best handicap horses in the country. Thus he should be considered as the most likely winner of this race, especially with the added incentive of a guaranteed spot in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on the line. However, keep in mind when wagering that he will likely go off at the very short odds as the post time favorite.
(1) The Lieutenant: Trainer Michael McCarthy sends out this older half brother to Triple Crown winner, Justify, looking to contend in his first try against Grade 1 company. In his most recent race, the ten furlong Suburban Handicap at Belmont on July 7th, The Lieutenant finished a well beaten second, six and a half lengths behind an absolute monster in Diversify. Although his distant second place finish in that race may not seem like much, The Lieutenant did earn a career best 107 BSR for his efforts and that race has come back quite strong as not only did Diversify easily win the nine furlong Whitney Stakes at Saratoga on August 4th, but third place finisher Discreet Lover ran third again in the Whitney. Moreover, The Lieutenant appears to be in top form right now, as he has managed to hit the board in his last four attempts against stakes level competition dating back to the Santana Mile on March 31st at Santa Anita. Saturday’s race will be just his third start at Del Mar, second attempt at ten furlongs and first try against Grade 1 competition but The Lieutenant certainly appears to be up for the challenge.
Over the past three years, trainer Michael McCarthy has done well when racing his trainees on dirt as he has been winning those races at an 18% rate (from 209 starts). Additionally, McCarthy has enjoyed a good deal of success competing in graded stakes races as he is currently winning at a 23% rate. Moreover, according to the TimeForm US trainer stats, McCarthy has been one of the best trainers in the country when switching between various circuits with his runners. On Saturday The Lieutenant will once again have Drayden Van Dyke in the irons, with whom he has hit the board in three of his four starts together dating back to December of last year. Van Dyke has been on fire during the current meet at Del Mar, winning 24% of his races and finishing in the money in 44% of his starts so far. Furthermore, Van Dyke has been quite competitive when racing at route distances as he is currently winning those types of races at a 24% clip.
The Lieutenant’s preferred running style is that of a closer with a sharp late finishing kick. As such, the TimeForm Pace Projector has indicated that it is very likely that The Lieutenant will be either be trailing most of the field or at the very rear of the field at least early on; however, this placing could be favorable for him. This year’s edition of the Pacific Classic drew a field that is mostly composed of either front-running early speed type horses or pace stalkers and in fact The Lieutenant is actually the only closer amongst the eight contenders for this race. Yet as it appears that these other horses will likely be setting honest initial fractions, the pace could then set up quite well for The Lieutenant to be in contention late and pass by tiring rivals down the stretch especially if the pace up front turns fractious at any point. Additionally, The Lieutenant should be well positioned along the rail when breaking from post position number one which will allow him to conserve the most ground and possibly be in an excellent position to vie for the front in the latter stages of the race.
The Lieutenant’s two most recent works at Del Mar were solid enough efforts and likely indicate that he still is in good shape despite the five week layoff since the Suburban Handicap. While it will almost certainly require him to take another step forward in order to best Accelerate, The Lieutenant does fit well in this race (in fact his current class rating ranks him second amongst the entire field) and should be able to give a good account of himself on Saturday. If Accelerate fails to fire for some reason then it is entirely possible that The Lieutenant could spring an upset and win this race; otherwise, it is much more likely that he will settle for a minor award and run either second or third.
(2) Dr. Dorr: Bob Baffert sends out the other five year old son of Lookin at Lucky in the field hoping to get back on track after back to back poor performances against Grade 2 competition. In his most recent effort in the San Diego Handicap (G2) at Del Mar on July 21st, although Dr. Dorr broke well and was initially forwardly placed contending the pace with Catalina Cruiser, he ultimately was unable to match the brilliant speed displayed by the up-and-coming Sadler trainee. That effort followed a disappointing showing in the Suburban Handicap, in which he never really got going. Dr. Dorr was simply unable to contend and tired late down the stretch finishing ninth of ten runners. However it should be noted that Dr. Dorr was given just two weeks off between each of his last three starts (the Grade 1 Gold Cup at Santa Anita, the Grade 2 Suburban Handicap, and the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap) and his poor performances in his last two starts may have been due to the rapid turnaround between races. On the other hand, Dr. Dorr enters this race off of a four week layoff and it is very likely that his connections are hoping the additional rest will have done him some good and that he can give a much better account of himself on Saturday than in his two previous outings. Finally, it bears mentioning that other than Accelerate, Dr. Dorr is the only other contender in the field for this year’s edition of the Pacific Classic to post three consecutive triple digit Bris Speed Ratings.
In a limited number of starts thus far at Del Mar (21 starts in fact), Bob Baffert has been doing extremely well, as he has won 24% of those starts and furthermore finished in the money in 66% of those first 21 races. Moreover, Baffert has been excellent over the past three years not only when entering his runners into dirt races (27% win rate from 1187 starts) but also when competing at the graded stakes level (28% win rate from 327 starts). However, the same success that Baffert has enjoyed so far at Del Mar does not apply to Dr. Dorr’s jockey, Joe Talamo, who has been struggling at the meet thus far. Yet, Baffert is sticking with Talamo to ride again on Saturday and this may be due to the fact that in his six starts onboard Dr. Dorr, Talamo has finished out of the money only once and either won or came in second in every other start. Additionally, Talamo has been riding well in route races this year and is currently winning those starts at a 22% rate. Furthermore, Talamo has done well when riding early speed type horses such as Dr. Dorr as he is currently winning 17% of his starts with that type of mount.
Dr. Dorr’s preferred running style is that of a pacesetter with very good early speed, as evidenced by some of the Brisnet Early Speed figures he posted in his last four races. The TimeForm Pace Projector has indicated that it is likely that Dr. Dorr will be forwardly placed and likely setting relatively honest initial fractions up front. However, there are several other contenders entered into the field on Saturday that have shown good early speed and it is entirely possible that some of them may choose to contest the pace with Dr. Dorr early on. Additionally, the rest of the field, except for The Lieutenant, has demonstrated a preference for stalking the pace and thus they may be traveling just a few lengths back and applying pressure on whichever horses are serving as the early pacesetters. Thus, although Dr. Dorr may not be the fastest horse in the field early on, it would greatly behoove Talamo to ride Dr. Dorr as such and that way allow him to establish an ideal position along the rail from which he can save ground throughout the race. Moreover, if Dr. Dorr can get out to the lead early on and dictate the pace rather than be pressured into setting faster fractions than he is comfortable with, he could allow himself to conserve speed and stamina for the stretch run and potentially stymie the efforts of those rivals hoping to drive past him with their better finishing kicks.
Dr. Dorr’s two most recent works at Del Mar were fairly workmanlike and may indicate that he is in better form coming into this race than he was going into his last two efforts. If Talamo can be aggressive immediately upon breaking from the gates and control the pace for much of the race, then there is a punter’s chance that he can turn the tables on Accelerate and possibly spring a major upset on Saturday. However, if Talamo allows himself to be coerced or pressured into working Dr. Dorr too hard by setting swift fractions early on, then it’s likely that the best the connections can hope for is an on the board finish as Accelerate and others will more than likely be looming as the field turns for home and Dr. Dorr may be unable to repel their challenges for the lead.
Amongst the rest of the field there were several candidates for use as an underneath play in any exotic wagering; however, each of these horses had several question marks surrounding them. Ultimately, the James Cassidy trainee, (3) Prime Attraction, emerged. Whether or not this five year old son of Unbridled’s Song ultimately prefers dirt or turf racing remains to be seen, as up to this point he has proven himself an adept runner over both surfaces. Although he has yet to hit the board in either try on the dirt at ten furlongs (his most recent effort came over a wet track in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap that he likely did not take to) he is a perfect 2-for-2 racing over the main track at Del Mar. Additionally, in his last dirt race at Del Mar in November of 2017, the nine furlong Native Diver Stakes (G3), he posted a 112 BSR, which is not only the highest speed figure ever run by any contender in this field, but also makes him incredibly dangerous if he can return to that form. Prime Attraction’s preferred running style is somewhat versatile in that he can either be involved in contesting the pace early on or sit back and rate just a few lengths off before challenging for the lead late. On Saturday, Prime Attraction will be ridden by Kent Desormeaux and it appears that his best chances of success will require him to break well and then immediately take up a stalking role just behind the likely pacesetter in Dr. Dorr. Such positioning would therefore allow Prime Attraction to have the first opportunity to strike for the front should Dr. Dorr begin to tire late and could permit him to seize control of the lead before Accelerate really got going. While it’s very unlikely that Prime Attraction would be able to hold off a hard charging Accelerate down the stretch, it is entirely possible that he remains in contention late and holds on for a minor award. Thus Prime Attraction is worth considering for use in all exotic wagering, especially if he remains around his morning line odds of 8-1.