For trainer Bobby Frankel, there has been good, better and best in the $1-million Pacific Classic, and he rated Saturday as the best after his lightly regarded Tinners Way made a late run to beat Best Pal by one length.
Frankel won the 1992 Classic with Missionary Ridge and repeated last year with Bertrando, whose owners switched trainers this year. Bertrando, the 2-1 favorite Saturday, was victimized by an early duel with Slew Of Damascus for the lead and finished next to last in the nine-horse field.
"This win makes me feel the best of all," Frankel said. "It's not revenge, but it's always nice to beat the horse that you trained last year. This should help my career more than anything."
The 53-year-old Frankel's horses earned $8.6 million last year and he won the Eclipse Award for best trainer.
"Yeah, I know all that, but a trainer's only as good as his last win, just like in other sports," Frankel said. "How many times have you seen a guy win a huge race, and then the next time you see them, they've disappeared?"
Tinners Way, who matched the track record of 1:59 2/5 set by Bertrando in last year's Classic, had never raced or worked out at Del Mar, remaining at Hollywood Park until two days ago. Frankel, concerned about numerous injuries that his horses suffered over the Del Mar track a year ago, has been vanning his horses 100 miles from Hollywood Park to run at Del Mar this season.
Tinners Way also had a new jockey, Eddie Delahoussaye. Kent Desormeaux, who rode the 4-year-old son of Secretariat and Devon Diva to one victory in eight starts this year, was at Saratoga, finishing second to Heavenly Prize aboard the odds-on favorite, Lakeway, in the Alabama Stakes. Frankel was going to hire Pat Day for the Pacific Classic, but Day didn't immediately return the trainer's phone call, and in the meantime Delahoussaye's agent, Terry Lipham, asked if they could have the mount. According to Frankel, Delahoussaye could have had the mount on Best Pal, but he preferred Tinners Way.
"Eddie's the right guy to have in these million-dollar races," Frankel said. "He never panics. When Best Pal moved, Eddie also moved, and then we just outgained him in the stretch."
This was Delahoussaye's ninth victory in a million-dollar race. "Bobby told me that this horse has one good spurt," Delahoussaye said. "Not a long one, but a good one. At the three-eighths pole, I had to go with my horse, because Best Pal came to me. It was a premature move, but I didn't have much choice. I had to go or I was going to get trapped."
Bred and owned by Prince Khalid Abdullah, a Saudi Arabian whose five breeding farms include 1,800 acres in Lexington, Ky., Tinners Way went off as the sixth betting choice and paid $16.20 while earning $550,000.
Tinners Way, trained by John Gosden in Europe before being sent late last year to Frankel, the prince's principal trainer in the United States, has raced mostly on dirt here. His only victory in the United States came in the Budweiser Breeders' Cup Handicap at Golden Gate Fields on June 25, and since then he was beaten by a neck by Region in the Bel Air Handicap at Hollywood Park on July 17.
After Tinners Way finished seventh in the Strub Stakes at Santa Anita in February, Frankel said that he would win the Pacific Classic. "I don't know why I picked out this race, I just did," Frankel said Saturday. "Then I walked around the rest of this year, without a clue. He's been an unlucky horse. He should have won the last time out. I thought that if there was a hot pace, Bertrando would be in trouble."
With Slew Of Damascus, the Hollywood Gold Cup winner, pushing Bertrando from the start, the punishing fractions of 21 3/5 and 44 2/5 also indicated to John Shirreffs, Bertrando's trainer, and the crowd of 27,000 that there was trouble.
"This was only the horse's second race back (after a season at stud), and the pace was too much," Shirreffs said. "Slew of Damascus was right there with us, and we never got a breather."
After Slew Of Damascus left Bertrando behind on the far turn, he then had to contend with Best Pal's entrymate, Dramatic Gold. After three-quarters of a mile, Tinners Way was sixth, six lengths off the lead and still in front of Best Pal by a half-length. At the quarter pole, Dramatic Gold edged ahead, with Tinners Way and Best Pal launching their bids. Best Pal, ridden by Chris McCarron, led for a stride or two at the top of the stretch before Tinners Way went by him.
Dramatic Gold finished third, 4 1/2 lengths behind Best Pal and 5 1/2 in front of Slew Of Damascus. Bertrando was beaten by 34 lengths. The first two finishers carried 124 pounds and Dramatic Gold, a 3-year-old, ran under 117 pounds.
Pat Valenzuela, Bertrando's jockey, recited the fractional times that spelled defeat for his horse. "Twenty-one (seconds)," he said. "Forty-four. How can you do that and keep on going? You can't. And he didn't. Too fast."
Craig Roberts, Slew Of Damascus' trainer, predicted such a pace would nullify the bids of both Bertrando and his horse.
"I knew what was going to happen," said Gary Stevens, who rode Slew Of Damascus. "I saw it happening. I felt it happening. But there wasn't a thing I could do about it. He and Bertrando are the same kind of horse. They both don't want another horse in front of them. There wasn't anything I could do. He was going to go and I couldn't stop him."
Best Pal won the first Pacific Classic, in 1991, and was third last year.
Richard Mandella, Best Pal's trainer, joked that Bertrando and Slew Of Damascus didn't run fast enough. "The winner's a good horse," Mandella said. "He's the 'now' horse, and he's at the top of his game. That's a tough combination, a good horse and Frankel training him. I'm getting sick of looking at Frankel."
Horse Racing Notes
Best Pal's $200,000 purse increased his total to $4.9 million, moving him ahead of Sunday Silence and Easy Goer on the earnings list. Ahead of the 6-year-old gelding are Alysheba with $6.9 million and John Henry with $6.5 million. . . . Eddie Delahoussaye also won Saturday's other stake, this time with a front-running ride on Desert Stormer in the $100,000 Rancho Bernardo Breeders' Cup Handicap. Desert Stormer, 9-1 while winning her first stake for trainer Fabio Nor, finished two lengths ahead of the favorite, Magical Maiden, making her first 1994 start.