The highlight of Del Mar’s summer meet will be Saturday’s $1-million Pacific Classic. But, unlike the last few years, it doesn’t have the star power we have come to expect.
Last year, super horse Arrogate started to find his doubters when he finished second to stablemate Collected. In 2016, California Chrome, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 2014, won his fifth straight race of the year. Beholder was the winner in 2015 by 8 ¼ lengths after a power move on the far turn that was considered by many the best by any horse that year. And in 2014 undefeated Shared Belief won his sixth in a row.
This year, the favorite at 8-5 is Accelerate, who won his first Grade 1 stakes in March when he came through in the slop to win the Santa Anita Handicap. He also won the Gold Cup at Santa Anita in his last race. He has won seven of 19 races but has run only once outside of Southern California.
“I was happy to get the No. 5 post, but felt he could handle any [post] going a mile and a quarter,” trainer John Sadler said this week. “You’d rather be the favorite than not, and we’re excited going into the race.”
Jockey Joel Rosario is coming in from New York to ride Accelerate after regular rider Victor Espinoza suffered a vertebra injury when he fell when his mount Bobby Abu Dhabi had a fatal heart attack during a workout.
Pavel, for trainer Doug O’Neill, is the second favorite at 7-2. He is coming off a win at the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs.
The track has made the race must-miss-TV for those on the East Coast with a post time just short of 10 p.m. EDT.
Santa Anita turf course
Santa Anita, which opens its next season Sept. 28, has put in new turf from the top of the downhill course to midway through the clubhouse turn, the most heavily used areas of the track. It’s about four acres of Bandera-Bermuda grass.
Rick Hammerle, the racing secretary and vice president of racing at the track, has no set number of turf races he plans to run. But he does have a plan.
“I kind of have a ballpark idea,” he said. “I generally try to card two or three on weekdays, four-ish on Saturdays and three-ish on Sundays. It all depends how each day goes and what type of races they are as I have to watch the purse account as well.”
Some East Coast tracks have two turf courses, but no Southern California track does. Instead, Joe Morris, who was the track’s top daily executive at the time, installed a movable rail. It allows the track to preserve the inside of the turf course from constant pounding by moving the rail out as much as 30 feet.
“The best thing we did was get the lightweight temporary rail that we now use for the turf course,” Hammerle said. “It allows us to move the rail daily [sometimes even during racing]. If the fields are smaller we can keep the rail out and preserve the inside for the bigger fields and the stakes. It’s generally outside on the weekdays and inside when the better races are run.”
The FrontRunner Stakes is gone
The FrontRunner Stakes, a good indication on the best 2-year-old Kentucky Derby hopefuls on the West Coast, is no more. It will instead be named the American Pharoah Stakes, after the Triple Crown winner. He trained at Santa Anita but raced there only once, in 2014, in the FrontRunner, which he won.
On Thursday, Santa Anita announced its schedule of Grade 1 stakes. The American Pharoah will be run Sept. 29, the same day as the Awesome Again Stakes, Rodeo Drive Stakes and Chandelier Stakes, all Grade 1s.
On Sunday of that week will be the Grade 1 Zenyatta Stakes.
McKinzie to Pennsylvania?
McKinzie, who was the top 3-year-old before getting hurt and ceding that position to Justify, may be making a return Sept. 22 for the $1-million Pennsylvania Derby at Parx race track near Philadelphia.
“I’m trying to get him ready for Parx, and there’s a good chance I might be able to do it, hopefully,” trainer Bob Baffert told Jeremy Balan of Bloodhorse.
McKinzie’s last race was the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita where he crossed the finish line first but was disqualified to second for interference with steward’s placed winner Bolt d’Oro.
Breeders’ Cup update
On Friday, Santa Anita will announce at about 10 a.m. that it has been awarded the 2019 Breeders’ Cup. Keeneland will then follow with word it has gotten the 2020 races. And, finally. Del Mar will announce its selection for 2021 no earlier than 2:30 p.m., or whenever the Breeders’ Cup officials can complete the long journey from Arcadia.