Can Quip defy his ‘tweener’ status and win the Pacific Classic at Del Mar?
Trainer Bob Baffert watched on a small television in the saddling area as Justify, and the rest of the field, entered a massive fog bank that had enveloped Pimlico Race Course during last year’s Preakness Stakes.
It was an interminable period of 12 to 15 seconds when everyone waited to see who was leading entering the stretch.
“I hope it’s the right horse in those colors,” Baffert said, knowing it probably would be. And it was.
Baffert’s reference was to Justify, who was wearing the same silks as as another horse in the race, Quip, because they shared the same ownership group, headed by WinStar Farm and China Horse Club.
Justify and Quip have some other things in common. They were both originally trained by Rodolphe Brisset and shared the same shedrow at Keeneland, where Brisset was training 20 WinStar horses.
This is where their paths diverge. Justify won the Preakness and Quip was last in the eight-horse field. Justify went on to win the Triple Crown and Quip is still looking for his first Grade 1 stakes victory.
It could come Saturday in the $1-million Pacific Classic at Del Mar. The race did not draw the stellar field it has in the past. The favorite, at 3-1, is Seeking The Soul, who beat Quip by a neck in the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs. Pavel, last year’s Pacific runner-up, is 7-2 and Quip is the third choice at 9-2.
“I know a lot of people don’t give much faith to Quip because he’s between a Grade 2 and a Grade 1,” said Brisset, his words wrapped in a French accent. “He’s what we call a tweener.”
The original thinking was to send Quip to the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga, but that field came up very strong.
“McKinzie is the best horse in the country,” Brisset said of the winner of last week’s Whitney. “It made sense for us to reroute to the Pacific Classic.”
Neither Brisset nor Elliott Walden, chief executive of WinStar Farm, is concerned that the Pacific Classic is one-eighth of a mile longer than the Stephen Foster, where Quip was caught in deep stretch.
“You need to go back and watch the gallop out [after the race was over],” Walden said. “He was full of energy. I’m not at all concerned about a mile-and-a-quarter.”
Brisset, 35, is new to being a head trainer, opening his own stable in April 2017, after 10 years working with Hall of Famer Bill Mott. Brisset had the role that Jim Barnes plays for Baffert, taking the best horses on the road to the biggest races.
“We’ve had horses with Bill since I quit training and we worked very closely with Rodolphe,” Walden said. “He’s a very talented horseman. If Bill trusted [Brisset] with good horses we certainly trusted him too.”
It was never in the plans for Justify to stay with Brisset; he was ticketed to go to Baffert. Quip was also scheduled to move, but Brisset’s background made him a good fit for Quip.
“He’s not an easy horse to deal with,” said Brisset, a former jockey. “When I got him he wasn’t very mature, but because of my riding skill I was good for the horse.”
Quip won his first two races before a disappointing seventh in the Kentucky Jockey Club. Then he picked up his first stakes win in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby and finished second in the Arkansas Derby. He had earned a ticket to the Kentucky Derby but his connections decided against it.
Unraced 3-year-old filly trained by Jim Cassidy euthanized after training breakdown; all four deaths at Del Mar this summer have come in morning workouts
“We asked Quip to travel a lot, but it was a little too much,” Brisset said.
He was saved for the Preakness, but didn’t run well.
“He wasn’t the same horse after the Preakness,” Walden said. “So, we decided to turn him out.”
Quip took nine months off between races, coming back with a third in the Hal’s Hope at Gulfstream and then winning the Oaklawn Handicap. His last race was the Stephen Foster.
With only nine lifetime races, four of them wins, Quip is a candidate to come back as a 5-year-old.
But first is this matter of the Pacific Classic. Generally, horses need a Grade 1 win to establish themselves as an attractive stallion prospect, so it’s important in that regard.
And Brisset, who is climbing the reputation ranks as a very good trainer, believes he needs a Grade 1 to establish himself.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself since I’ve been on my own for two years,” Brisset said. "It would mean everything to me and the whole team to win the race with him.”
A win would put Quip in good company. Four of the last five winners of the Pacific Classic have accounted for 10 Eclipse Awards.
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