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DEL MAR : Changes Give Unfamiliar Look to Field for the Pacific Classic

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Crosscurrents will be everywhere when Del Mar stages the $1-million Pacific Classic Saturday. Consider:

--Bobby Frankel trained Bertrando when he won the Classic last year.

--Bertrando is one of Saturday’s favorites, but his trainer is now John Shirreffs, and Frankel’s horse in the 1994 Classic is Tinners Way, a longshot who has won only one of nine starts in the United States.

--When Best Pal won the first running of the Classic in 1991 and finished third in 1993, Gary Jones was his trainer.

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--Richard Mandella will saddle Best Pal Saturday, while Jones tries to win the race with Stuka, who has won only two races in two years, one of them this year’s Santa Anita Handicap after The Wicked North was disqualified.

--Pat Valenzuela, who rode Best Pal to his victory in the Classic, is now riding Bertrando.

--Gary Stevens, who rode Bertrando when he won the Classic, will be astride Slew Of Damascus.

--Kent Desormeaux, who wanted to ride Best Pal again after he got off him last year, won’t even be in town. Chris McCarron replaced Desormeaux, who will be at Saratoga to ride the Jones-trained Lakeway, odds-on favorite in the Alabama Stakes.

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The only loose end in this situation might be Ian Jory, who trained Best Pal before anybody else did. If Jory had a horse in the Pacific Classic, the pattern would be complete. As it is, all Jory can do is watch to see how soon his prediction of four years ago will come true.

“The only thing that’s surprised me about Best Pal’s career is that he’s not No. 1 on the earnings list yet,” Jory said. “I always thought he would be. I said he would be when he was a 2-year-old.”

If Best Pal takes the winner’s share of $550,000 Saturday, his earnings would jump to $5.3 million and leave him behind only Alysheba ($6.6 million) and John Henry ($6.5 million). The four retired horses ahead of Best Pal on the list are those two plus Sunday Silence and Easy Goer.

Despite physical ailments--hoof trouble, a splint injury and a bleeding problem--Best Pal was a $1-million-a-year horse during his first three years in training, and he earned more than $900,000 last year, even though he won only two races.

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“He still looks great,” Jory said. “He’s a lot bigger and stronger than when I had him. He’s a horse that adapts to any kind of training. I trained him differently than Gary (Jones) did. I didn’t push him, or work him hard. The key is to keep him happy, then just point him in the right direction.”

In 1990, Jory was 32 and a transplanted Englishman who had been running a modest stable for six years in California when John and Betty Mabee of Golden Eagle Farm sent him Best Pal, a nondescript California-bred that would have brought little at public auction. Best Pal had been gelded, and his prospects had no one turning cartwheels.

A few months later, Jory thought he had another John Henry in his barn.

Best Pal was a gritty, inexperienced horse whose body might have been 50% heart. He broke his maiden in his first race, at Hollywood Park, and after a second place in a minor stake at Golden Gate Fields, he put together three stakes victories at Del Mar that summer, including the Del Mar Futurity. The next month, he won the Norfolk at Santa Anita, the first time he ran farther than a mile.

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Best Pal wasn’t just winning races, he was annihilating the opposition.

The Mabees thought so little of him as a young horse that he wasn’t nominated, for $500, to the Breeders’ Cup, and after being supplemented for $120,000, Best Pal ran a disappointing sixth in the Juvenile at Belmont Park. But then he rebounded to win the $1-million Hollywood Futurity. He finished the year with six victories in eight starts and purses totaling $1 million. The year before, Jory’s entire barn had earned $374,000.

As a 3-year-old, Best Pal had two preps for the Kentucky Derby. Jory was cocky about the horse by then, but Best Pal was beaten both times, finishing a half-length behind Dinard in the Santa Anita Derby. In the Kentucky Derby, after drawing the 15th post, in the dreaded auxiliary starting gate, Best Pal ran a big race, placing second to Strike The Gold.

Then he ran one of his worst races, finishing fifth, beaten by 11 lengths, in the Preakness. Jory had been hearing unsettling rumors about his status since Santa Anita, and in June, after Best Pal’s second-place finish at 9-10 odds in the Silver Screen Handicap at Hollywood Park, the Mabees made the switch to Gary Jones.

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Under the veteran trainer’s care, Best Pal won eight races and earned more than $3 million, but Jones stopped training for the Mabees last winter, clearing the way for Richard Mandella.

Jory, Jones and Mandella have all been exposed to Best Pal’s burgeoning fan base. After an early victory at Santa Anita, one racegoer held aloft a California license plate just outside the winner’s circle that read: “Bes Pal.” After the horse’s recent victory at Hollywood Park, Mandella said: “This is a horse that gets letters. In the mornings, people stop and say ‘Hi’ to him.”

Jory has forged on, looking for another horse that will elevate his stable to a national level. He knows, of course, that he’s not likely to find one as good or as popular. “Best Pal is one of those few horses that has a fan club,” Jory said. “I don’t believe there’s another horse that’s had the adulation he’s had.”

Horse Racing Notes

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Best Pal, who runs better when he’s outside horses, worked a half-mile Wednesday in 48 2/5 seconds and then drew a favorable No. 7 post as nine horses were entered for Saturday’s Pacific Classic. He and entrymate Dramatic Gold are the 2-1 favorites on the morning line, with Bertrando at 5-2.

All of the horses will carry 124 pounds except the 3-year-olds, Silver Music and Dramatic Gold, who get 117 under the race’s weight-for-age conditions. . . . Silver Music is being supplemented for $30,000. . . . The first post will be 1 p.m. Saturday, with the Classic the fourth race on the card.

Kent Desormeaux was not suspended by the stewards after his winning mount, Wende, was disqualified to ninth place Monday. . . . Serena’s Song, who finished second behind Mr Purple in the Hollywood Juvenile, returns to the 2-year-old filly division Friday and faces seven rivals in the $75,000 Sorrento Stakes. Others running are How So Oiseau, Turko’s Turn, Marfa Smeralda, Embroidered, Don’t Bet Chalk, Great Threads and Ski Dancer. . . . After a couple of fourth places, the French import Sir Mark Sykes won his first race in the United States, coming from behind Wednesday to beat Navire by three-quarters of a length in the Escondido Handicap.

Pacific Classic

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A look at the field for Saturday’s $1-million Pacific Classic at Del Mar:

PP Horse Jockey Wt. Odds 1. Silver Music Antley 117 9-2 2. Stuka Pincay 124 15 3. Bertrando P. Valenzuela 124 5-2 4. Del Mar Dennis Solis 124 5 5. Slew Of Damascus Stevens 124 8 6. Risen Roman G. Baze 124 30 7. Best Pal* McCarron 124 2 8. Tinners Way Delahoussaye 124 8 9. Dramatic Gold* Nakatani 117 2

*Entry

Distance: 1 1/4 miles on main track.

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Post time: 2:42 p.m.

TV: ESPN (live coverage).


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