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Express Train ready to rumble in at Pacific Classic

California Chrome flies down the closing stretch during the running of the Pacific Classic at Del Mar.
Horses race during the running of the Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Aug. 20, 2016, in Del Mar.
(Lenny Ignelzi / Associated Press)

There is no Cigar in this year’s Pacific Classic field.

For that matter, there is no California Chrome, Pleasantly Perfect, Best Pal, Bertrando or Beholder, either. But what the 31st edition of Del Mar’s premier annual race lacks in star power, it makes up for in competitive balance.

“It’s a field with a selection of possible winners,” Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella said this week while discussing his two entries, Royal Ship and Tizamagician. “Many of the horses in this field have raced each other before with different outcomes.”

But the favorite come post time for the 10th race on a Saturday card that includes five graded stakes races could be a 4-year-old colt who debuted at Del Mar just over two years ago and last month won what is considered the prep race for the $1 million TVG Pacific Classic.

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“I think Express Train is coming into the race really well,” said his trainer, John Shirreffs.

Express Train, with Juan Hernandez in the saddle, is attempting to become the fourth horse to complete the San Diego Handicap-Pacific Classic double. Maximum Security did it last year. California Chrome did it in 2016. And Skimming did it in 2000 and 2001.

A New York federal judge nullified the suspension of Bob Baffert, his firs legal victory in the wake of Medina Spirit’s positive medication test.

The San Diego Handicap was run July 17 at 11/16 miles, three-sixteenths shorter than today’s 11/4-mile Classic. Five of the nine horses in the Pacific Classic ran in the San Diego — Express Train, Tripoli (second), Royal Ship (third), Magic On Tap (fifth) and Sheriff Brown (seventh).

But in the eyes of the 76-year-old Shirreffs, Express Train’s race could be decided before the start. The son of Union Rags can get a bit excited in the paddock. And there are fans at Del Mar this year.

“Having fans back is important,” Shirreffs said this week. “I think it’s good for the horses, too.”

Will it be good for Express Train? “He can get a little nerved up in the paddock,” said Shirreffs. “If he can control his nervousness a little bit and maintain his focus, he’ll do really well. It’s a sign for him. He controlled himself well in the paddock before the San Diego Handicap and ran a very good race. He’s probably going to get a little hot no matter what.”

After finishing second in his debut on Aug. 4, 2019 at Del Mar, Express Train won his next race here by 14¼ lengths. He was jumped to the Grade I American Pharoah Stakes at Santa Anita, where he ran fourth. He was off for almost a year before returning to Del Mar to score his second win.

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Since Dec. 26, Express Train has started six graded stakes races with a record of two wins (both Grade II races), two seconds (in the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap and Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita) and two thirds (in the Grade I Gold Gup at Santa Anita and the Grade II Oaklawn Handicap).

Domani Jackson and CJ Williams helped the Monarchs win the St. John Bosco tournament title while Los Alamitos won at Mission Viejo.

Express Train is the 3-1 morning line favorite in the Pacific Classic. Royal Ship (Mike Smith) is the second favorite at 7-2. Before running third in the San Diego, Royal Ship finished second ahead of Express Train in the Gold Cup. Import Dr Post (with former Del Mar riding champion Joel Rosario) is the third favorite at 4-1 followed by Tizamagician (Flavien Prat), Tripoli (Tiago Periera) and Independence Hall (Florent Geroux) all at 5-1.

Longshots Cupid’s Claws (Umberto Rispoli, 15-1), Magic On Tap (Abel Cedillo, 20-1) and Sheriff Brown (Edwin Maldonado, 30-1) complete the field.

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Center writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.


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