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Stars Come Out for Classic

Times Staff Writer

There are plenty of horses with plenty to prove in today’s Pacific Classic, the signature race of the summer at Del Mar.

There is Giacomo, the longshot who won the 2005 Kentucky Derby but didn’t win again until last month, raising hopes he might finish his racing career with a flourish.

There is Perfect Drift, who has earned more than $4.5 million but is famous mostly for finishing second, as he has in the last two Pacific Classics. He’s trying to win for the first time in more than a year.

And then there’s the favorite, Lava Man, a former claimer who is trying to become the first horse to win the Santa Anita Handicap, the Hollywood Gold Cup and the Pacific Classic in the same year and enhance his claim against rivals from the East for horse of the year.

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“I guess Best Pal is the only one who has won all three, but not in the same year,” said Doug O’Neill, Lava Man’s trainer.

That horse-of-the-year business won’t be settled until the Breeders’ Cup Classic in November, a race these three are all pointed toward, and those who make it figure to meet up with Preakness winner Bernardini.

The claim that Lava Man has been beating lesser West Coast horses is a familiar one, echoed again this week by Perfect Drift’s Kentucky trainer, Murray Johnson, who also noted Perfect Drift finished ahead of Lava Man in last year’s Pacific Classic.

O’Neill shrugged it off.

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“Hopefully Sunday night he’ll have some new quotes,” he said.

Today’s $1 million Grade I race is an opportunity to quiet doubters for most of the contenders in the eight-horse field for the 1 1/4 -mile race.

Perhaps none stands to gain more than Giacomo, the 3-1 second choice in the morning line behind 8-5 Lava Man.

Written off as a fluke almost as soon as he won the Derby at 50-1 odds, Giacomo was a distant third in the Preakness and seventh in the Belmont before undergoing surgery to remove bone chips from both front legs last summer.

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Until he won the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar last month by a head over Preachinatthebar, another entry in today’s race, he was 0 for 2 since the surgery.

That included a fifth-place finish in the Santa Anita Handicap behind Lava Man and second-place Magnum, the 5-1 third choice today.

John Shirreffs, Giacomo’s trainer, said Giacomo might have turned a corner, adding that his struggles might have been because he came back too soon after the surgery.

“I think coming back and winning the San Diego Handicap should have put a little bit of the boo birds to rest,” he said.

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Arravale, the 3-1 second choice, won for the fourth time in five starts and became a Grade I winner by taking the $400,000 Del Mar Oaks on Saturday.

The 3-year-old Arch filly completed the 1 1/8 miles on turf in 1:48.03 under jockey Jose Valdivia Jr. and is now one for two in California. A winner of all three of her races on grass at Woodbine in Toronto, Arravale had finished third behind Wait a While and Asahi Rising in the American Oaks on July 2 at Hollywood Park in her first visit to the Southland.

Foxysox, who was ridden for the first time by Corey Nakatani, finished third, but was moved up to second after original runner-up Take The Ribbon was disqualified for alleged interference in the stretch and placed fourth. Soothsay was moved up to third.

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A day before he will try to win a Grade I with longshot Good Reward in the Pacific Classic, trainer Shug McGaughey got one at Saratoga.

Pine Island, the 11-10 favorite in the $600,000 Alabama, prevailed by 1 1/4 lengths. Javier Castellano rode the 3-year-old Arch filly who beat pacesetter and 15-1 shot Teammate in 2:02.87 for the 1 1/4 miles.

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Jockey Russell Baze’s streak of victories came to an end at nine when Multiple, the heavy favorite in the second race on Saturday at Bay Meadows, finished fourth under Baze.

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Geoffrey Johnson, 78, the father of trainer Murray Johnson, was resting comfortably at Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas after suffering a heart episode in the barn area at Del Mar on Friday evening, his son said.

Times staff writer Bob Mieszerski contributed to this report.

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