Pacific Classic Preview: Showdown at Old Del Mar

Del Mar Free Picks Header - California Chrome and Dortmund - San Diego Handicap - Credit: Chris Aplin
Chris Aplin

California Chrome drew the No. 1 post position and was established as the 8-5 favorite on oddsmaker Russ Hudak’s morning line at the draw party Tuesday evening at the Brigantine restaurant for Saturday’s 26th running of the $1 million TVG Pacific Classic.

Pace Scenario – Moderate

Speed: #3 War Story, #8 Dortmund

Stalkers: #1 California Chrome, #4 Hard Aces, #5 Win the Space, #7 Beholder, #9 Dalmore

Closers: #2 Hoppertunity, #6 Imperative

Not looking to me like a pace that would be too hot for the front runners so there isn’t a lot of worries in that regard.  However, the pace shouldn’t be a crawl either so the major players in the race will be ok.  Also, even if the pace is slow the main challengers are all very tactical in this race so I believe they will still be in position to make a move.


Top Pick: #7 Beholder

Coming off a loss and I’m still picking her to win as my respect for her runs super deep.  Bottom line for me is this: Mandella wouldn’t enter her here unless he was very confident in her ability to bounce back and run a big time race.  Even though she lost last time out, the trainer took responsibility for underestimating the competition and admitted he didn’t have her fully cranked up.  However, I believe she will be fully cranked today, and I think it will be a major redemption story when all is said and done.  Her race last year is good enough to win this one, and I think Mandella can get it out of her one more time.

Other Likely Winners: #1 California Chrome and #8 Dortmund

Make no mistake…taking Beholder on top is a big time risk.  However, if she comes out with her best race I simply think she’s better than these two giants.  I’m not crazy though as these two should definitely be on any multi race wager you play.  These two horses need no introduction, and each are on top of their games coming into this race.  Their head to head battle in the San Diego Handicap was one for the ages, and either of them winning would come as no surprise to me.

Exotic Plays: #5 Win the Space and #2 Hoppertunity

Win the Space has run two races in a row that have been competitive but he’s just not been good enough to tackle the best in this division.  Last time out he ran well enough to hit the board, but could never get close to the top two.  Hoppertunity is a tough horse with all kinds of veteran experience, but is more of a grind it out type that will struggle to beat the elite horses in this group.  He’s a great play underneath though as he always is around no matter what caliber race he’s running in.

Party Crashers: NONE

No upset bids here…its going to be one of the three top horses: California Chrome, Dortmund, or Beholder.

Throw Outs: #3 War Story, #4 Hard Aces, #6 Imperative, and #9 Dalmore

A couple of these (Hard Aces and Imperative) are nice ones, but overall none of the four I have listed here have much of a chance to make an impact in a race of this caliber.  Things will really have to get wild for it to happen.


Dortmund will break from the No. 8 spot in a field of nine and was the 5-2 second choice on the morning line. Champion mare Beholder, the defending race champion, drew the No. 7 post and, in a testament to the quality of the field which many consider the best ever in Del Mar’s signature event, is the 3-1 third choice on the morning line.

Connections for all three of the marquee runners in a field of nine entrants expressed major concerns about the posts their horses were assigned. All three had high praise for the quality of the field assembled.

California Chrome, the 2014 Horse of the Year, became the all-time leading money winner in North America with a victory in the $10 million Dubai World Cup in March and edged Dortmund in the San Diego Handicap here on July 23, the comeback race from several months’ layoff for both runners.

Beholder is a three-time Eclipse Award winner, whose eight-race winning streak was snapped with a half-length defeat to Stellar Wind in the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes here on July 30.

Dortmund’s three losses in 11 career starts have all come at the hands of Kentucky Derby/Horse of the Year winners – to American Pharoah in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness last year and to California Chrome in the San Diego.

“He’s coming in with no excuses,” trainer Art Sherman said of California Chrome. “Everybody gets outrun, we all know that, but I wouldn’t give up my chances for any other horse in the race. I think he’s coming into the race as good as I’ve ever seen him and I think he’s even better than he was in the Dubai race, which was awesome.

“The No. 1 post is never good at any track but being a former jockey, I know that if he (Victor Espinoza) rides the right race the No. 1 post isn’t going to be a problem. It depends on how the early fractions are and then you just go from there. It’s going to be a jockey’s race.

“It’s going to be a fan friendly race, I can tell you that.”

Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella and Hall of Fame rider Gary Stevens could both smile after Beholder was the first name pulled from the entry box and matched with the No. 7 post via the “pill pull.”

“It’s good to be outside, away from the action inside early,” Mandella said. “Our intention is to get her back (off the pace) and go back to our game that works. We got a little creative last time and it wasn’t the best thing, but I don’t know if it made any difference.

“This is a world class race with one of the all-time great fields of horses, and if they all get to the gate at the same time, it’s going to be quite a race. And I expect they will.”

The Clement L. Hirsch loss now appears to be a small bump in a mostly smooth road that the 6-year-old daughter of Henny Hughes has traveled in a 23-race career

“I looked for a week to find a reason not to run in this race because it is a hell of an undertaking, and I couldn’t find any. She had a great work, came out of it great and you only live once.”

“I’m ecstatic,” Stevens said. “First name out of the box, I hear Beholder, then I hear No. 7 and I’m like ‘Yes!’ It gives me a lot of options. I’ve drawn the No. 1 hole several times with Beholder and I said a little prayer before coming over here that we wouldn’t draw the one hole and we didn’t.

“It’s like the heavyweight championship of the world. I think we’re all looking for a very competitive race that leads to a Breeders’ Cup Classic for all three of them. That’s what I’m hoping for anyway.”

The TVG Pacific Classic is a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on November 5 at Santa Anita.

Kaleem Shah, owner of Dortmund, observed the proceedings and offered “can’t complain” when asked for an assessment.

“I think it’s going to be good that we’re on the outside,” Shah said. “We were on the inside last time. Hopefully we can stalk and then get the job done. I think you’ll see beautiful horses coming down the stretch and it’s going to be one for the ages.”

The only surprise at the close of entries, and not exactly a shocking one, was Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert including Hoppertunity in with Dortmund. Hoppertunity, fourth in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita on June 25, was scratched from the Cougar II Handicap on July 24 after running a temperature a few days ahead of the race and Baffert indicated over the weekend that Dortmund would be his Pacific Classic representative and Rafael Bejarano would ride.

On Monday, Bejarano worked Hopportunity five furlongs in :59.80 and when Hoppertunity rocked, Baffert hastened to open the Classic door for him, acquiring the services of meet-leading rider Flavien Prat.

Trainer John Sadler, who nominated Hard Aces for both the Classic and Saturday’s Del Mar Handicap, elected to stay in the Pacific Classic.

The field for the Pacific Classic from the rail out: California Chrome (Victor Espinoza, 8-5), Hoppertunity (Flavien Prat, 8-1), War Story (Ricardo Mejias, 30-1), Hard Aces (Santiago Gonzalez, 15-1), Win The Space (Joe Talamo, 15-1), Imperative (Norberto Arroyo, Jr., 20-1), Beholder (Gary Stevens, 3-1), Dortmund (Rafael Bejarano, 5-2) and Dalmore (Kent Desormeaux, 20-1)

Interview With Trainer Richard Mandella

Richard Mandella weaved his humor and wisdom into questions about his mare and the 2016 TVG Pacific Classic at his barn the other morning:

Q. Generally speaking, what is your philosophy of running females against males?

“I think you shouldn’t do it unless they’re faster.

“They just need to be better; that simple. In this game, ‘better’ is marginal. What you have to be thinking is that (your female) is in their (males) league. And I think she is in anybody’s league.”

Q. So you’ve basically taken the “sex” thing out of the equation?

“Yeah. We’re not mating them.

“She’s exceptional. As a 3-year-old, she beat (multiple champion) Royal Delta (in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff). That’s exceptional.”

Q. Some people think that if you’re going to beat colts, your mare has to be bigger and stronger.

“They just have to be faster. They ain’t gonna wrestle.”

Q. Do you think females get intimidated running against males?

“I would hope those males would be gentlemen and let her go first.”

Q. How tough is this race for her Saturday?

“This is a world-class race shaping up. It’s hard to imagine it getting any tougher. ‘Chrome’ is at the top of his game. Dortmund ran a great race against him and he’s a very good horse. This is her toughest race ever.”

Q. But you still feel she’s ready?

“I think the race the other day (Clement L. Hirsch July 30 in which she finished second to last year’s 3-year-old champion filly Stellar Wind) legged her up where I wanted her. I was shocked she ever got beat and it took me a week to get my courage up. But she’s got hers (courage up), so I’m going to listen to her.”

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