Not to go all Olympics on you, but if the results of stakes races in the first two weeks of the meeting are looked at as “heats” or “prelims” for the $1 million Pacific Classic on Sunday, August 26, then Del Mar’s signature race is going to be one star-studded final.
Acclamation made a successful title defense in the Eddie Read Stakes on July 21, prompting owner Bud Johnston and trainer Don Warren to cite a title defense in the Pacific Classic as a primary goal while leaving open the possibility of going in the Del Mar Handicap on grass one day earlier.
Worth Repeating and Balladry, the second and third-place finishers in the Cougar II, are solid Pacific Classic possibilities but may not be the only other ones advancing from the Cougar II to the Classic.
Rail Trip signaled readiness with a victory on Saturday, July 28, in the San Diego Handicap, the 1 1/16-mile traditional stepping stone to the Classic. It was the first win for Rail Trip in more than two years. But five of the eight straight defeats had come in an ill-fated, 13-month campaign in the East. And the last two were while coming off a six-month layoff due to an injury that prompted a return to the West and to the stable of trainer Ron Ellis. It was while in Ellis’ care, and under jockey Jose Valdivia, Jr., Rail Trip scored his biggest victory, the 2009 Hollywood Gold Cup.
Stats to evidence that Rail Trip runs for the Ellis-Valdivia combination: Rail Trip is 9-for-15 when saddled by Ellis and seven of those wins were with Valdivia in the irons (he’s 7-for-12)
John Scott and Kettle Corn, the 2-3 finishers in the San Diego, are being considered for the Classic . Baffert is training Game On Dude up to the Classic, with a start dependent upon how the reigning Hollywood Gold Cup Champion handles the Polytrack surface. So far, Baffert has been enthusiastic about the efforts.
The Pacific Classic has had some major East Coast-based horses ship in to participate in the past, and that’s not beyond the realm of possibility this year. But given the results of the “prelims,” it’ll be a brave East Coast trainer who opts to ship.
“Ron The Greek shipped out to win the Santa Anita Handicap (in March),” Warren pointed out. “But there are so many races and so much money back there this time of year, they don’t have to come this far unless they think they’ve got a really good horse and a really good shot.
“It’s going to be a tough race, no doubt about that,” Warren said. “You run for a $1 million purse and you’ve got to expect it. “ Warren said he’ll wait until late in Pacific Classic week to decide between the Classic and the Del Mar Handicap.
AMAZOMBIE, BAFFERT PAIR EXIT CROSBY WELL
Amazombie and the 2-3 finishers, The Factor and Capital Account, were in good health in the aftermath of the Grade I, 6-furlong sprint, their respective trainers reported Wednesday morning.
“He came out of it very well,” trainer Bill Spawr said of 2011 Eclipse Award Sprint champion Amazombie, a 1 ¼-length winner of the Crosby in 1:08.65 under Mike Smith. “He didn’t lose the weight he did after the race in Kentucky (Churchill Downs Handicap on May 5) and he’s looking good.”
Spawr said he has no intention of wavering from the set plan of running Amazombie next in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship in October at Santa Anita and then defending his title in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint there on November 3.
Trainer Bob Baffert said both The Factor and Capital Account came out of the Crosby fine but “I don’t know yet,” about their participation in the 7-furlong Pat O’Brien on Sunday, August 26. The Factor’s victory in the 2011 Pat O’Brien was the major reason he was voted Sprinter of the Meeting.
BIG BICOASTAL WINS FOR BEACH RIDERS
Brian Beach, agent for jockeys Corey Nakatani and Yuichi Fukunaga, saw both riders notch significant wins on Sunday, Nakatani at Monmouth Park in New Jersey and Fukunaga at Del Mar.
Nakatani won the Grade II, $200,000 Molly Pitcher aboard Brushed by a Star ($21.20) and finished second to Paynter on Nonios in the $1 million Haskell Invitational. Fukunaga, the leading rider in Japan, won the third race on the Del Mar card aboard Switch to the Lead, to record his first career victory at Del Mar and end an 0-for-17 streak at the track and 0-for-34 in the U.S. while on a summer-long personal testing on one of the top North American circuits.
“Yuichi was very excited to win the race here and especially for (trainer) Patrick Biancone, because he’s been good to us and put us on a lot of horses,” Beach said. “Hopefully, that will give some people a heads up and they’ll have more confidence in him with their owners.
“I think it has been a situation where the trainers have been interested in Yuichi when they see him in the morning on a horse. But it’s tough for owners to ride someone they don’t know.”
Fukunaga, 35, was the champion rider of 2011 in Japan by winning percentage and, he told The Paulick Report, partly through interpreter Mikki Tsuge, he came here with realistic expectations and a goal to learn, not to dominate.
“He came here knowing it is going to be very difficult for him,” said Tsuge. “In Japan, the fans may think with his skills, he will have the opportunity to ride and win many races in the United States. But he came here with a realistic attitude that he is not well known, and he wants the Japanese fans not to be disappointed and to understand that it is a big challenge. He wants to learn and improve his skills as a rider.”
After Sunday’s win, Fukunaga said the filly “should have gotten more respect (at the betting windows), but the price was high because it was me riding her.”
GRADUATION DAY AT HAND FOR CAL-BRED JUVENILES
A field of five is entered for today’s featured $100,000 Graduation Stakes for California-bred 2-year-olds.
Strong Wind (8-5) and Law Dog (9-5) are the top choices in Russ Hudak’s opening line. A Graduation victory would be the third in a Del Mar stakes for Strong Wind trainer Steve Knapp, but the first in eight years since he saddled Icantgoforthat to win the Daisycutter Handicap and Lady Sabrina to take the CERF Handicap.
A Graduation victory would be the first stakes win at Del Mar for Law Dog trainer Tevis McCauley.
The Graduation is the fifth on an eight-race program.
CLOSERS – Jockey Chantal Sutherland was on the Conan O’Brien Show on Tuesday night. She thanked the program’s organizers for their hospitality via Twitter this morning then added, “Back to work. Two (to ride) today at Del Mar “ … Jockey Patrick Valenzuela, who aggravated a chronic knee problem and took off late mounts on Sunday, was reportedly OK. He’s scheduled aboard three mounts today … Horses eligible for the Ship And Win bonuses on today’s card include: Blackie’s Crown (1st, Christie Grisham, trainer); Cosset (1st, Hector Palma); Grace for Grace (1st, Tevis McCauley); Supreme Secret (3rd, Jack Bruner); Eye for an Eye (3rd, Dallas Keen); Four Wealth (3rd, Tevis McCauley) and Law Dog (5th, Tevis McCauley). Horses entered in stakes races (Law Dog) are eligible for the $1,000 basic bonus, but not the 20 percent bonus for purse earnings … The Gourmet Food Truck and Craft Beer Festival on Saturday showed marked growth over the 2011 edition. DMTC estimates were that between 14,000-15,000 fans were served, up approximately 3,000. A total of 46 trucks did business, five more than the year before. Director of Events and Promotions Chris Bahr anticipates the festival will be even bigger next year.
Trakus Facts of the Day for Sunday, July 29
The early pace of the Bing Crosby Stakes taxed both Comma to the Top and The Factor. After a strong early gallop, which included a second quarter-mile faster than the first, both slowed considerably in the third and final quarter. The Factor faded to second, getting the final furlong in 12.26 seconds, while longshot Comma to the Top dropped to fourth, with a final furlong in 12.61 seconds. Concurrently, Capital Account closed fastest with a final quarter in 23.49 seconds and final eighth in 11.83.
Amazombie’s times for both fractions were 23.52 and 11.91. Two races earlier, allowance horses set significantly slower early fractions (0.39 seconds for the first quarter, and 1.18 seconds for the second quarter), enabling faster final quarters. Sixth race winner Jimmy Creed had the fastest times home, getting a quarter in 23.23 seconds and the last furlong in 11.45.
Front-running seventh race winner A Jealous Woman hugged the rail throughout, as did the second place finisher, Jet Blue Girl. Third home, Plaza de Indias, was beaten less than two lengths, but covered 40 feet more than A Jealous Woman. Converting the extra feet traveled to lengths, Plaza de Indias’s trip required covering approximately 4.7 lengths of added ground.