Monday, August 23, 2010
PPs and the Pacific Classic
LOS ANGELES, August 24, 2010--I love poring over past performances of old warhorses that run on and on, like a Russian novel. John Henry, of course, was the nonpareil. I showed Lefty Nickerson, one of the early trainers of John Henry, his lifetime PPs once, and Lefty looked at the sheet and laughed. "Hey, look at this," Nickerson said, pointing to the fourth race of an 83-race career. "Larry Munster fell off John Henry once."
Even if he doesn't run on August 28 in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar (the Del Mar Handicap is a softer spot the next day), the early presence of Unusual Suspect in the richer race has given me a chance to peruse the PPs of a doughty 6-year-old who has at least been there, while not doing that. It has taken Unusual Suspect 50 races to win eight, and he has never won anything more important than a Grade 3, but he has somehow put almost $850,000 in the till. Any horse who pays for his keep in this fragile business is a horse to be cherished.
You can see what Abrams, who has never had a Pacific Classic starter in the 19 years the race has been run, is up against. Whenever it seems like it's time to drop Unusual Suspect into racing's low-rent district, Abrams' horse up and runs a big race in graded company. He made up almost 19 lengths in this year's San Juan Capistrano Handicap at Santa Anita, getting beat by a half-length. He was second in the San Luis Obispo Handicap, a Grade 2 race. That $850,000 has come in dribs and drabs, but it still spends.
Last time out, Unusual Suspect finished second in the Cougar II Stakes at Del Mar, which at a mile and a half ought to make the Pacific Classic distance of a mile and a quarter seem like a walk around the block. Winner of the Cougar was Temple City, a 5-year-old who had never won a stake. Third, behind Unusual Suspect, was Richard's Kid, who won the Pacific Classic in a $50.80 stunner last year. Abrams must be thinking, if those two horses are in the Pacific Classic this time, why shouldn't I be?
Awesome Gem, another Pacific Classic hopeful, also has a delicious set of PPs. The 7-year-old gelding has run 36 times, which means that Awesome Gem and Unusual Suspect have run 86 times combined. The rest of the expected Pacific Classic field, seven horses, has run only 120 times. Unlike Unusual Suspect, who has run mostly in California, Awesome Gem hardly ever runs in the same place twice. He has no debts, having earned more than $2 million, but he keeps moving. When he ran at Lone Star Park earlier this year, that was his 11th track.
Awesome Gem has only won eight races, but 17 seconds and thirds give him a right to dance every dance. A partial list of the horses he's faced is an impressive cast: Curlin, Goldikova, Einstein, Gio Ponti, Kip Deville, General Quarters, Lava Man, Battle of Hastings, Arson Squad and Rail Trip. He beat Rail Trip in July, winning the Hollywood Gold Cup, and he finished third as Curlin won the 2007 Breeders' Cup Classic. He will become the first horse to run four times in the Pacific Classic, after a pair of sevenths and a second-place finish behind Student Council in his first try.
Student Council, $48.80, was one of those choice longshots that have befuddled many Pacific Classic bettors over the years. This time, more horses have reasons to lose the race than win it. Awesome Gem is 0 for 7 at Del Mar, counting his grass races. Crowded House hasn't won in two years. Dakota Phone's win in the San Diego Handicap was his first in two years. Hold Me Back is 1 for 8 since early 2009. Isle of Giant's took nine races to break his maiden, just eight months ago. Richard's Kid has won once since the last Pacific Classic. The Usual Q.T. is 8 for 10 on grass, winless otherwise, and his win last month in the Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar was on turf. Temple City won the Cougar II in his last start. If I were the linemaker, I would throw the numbers into the air, and hope nobody gets hit with them on the way down.