On Saturday, September 2, the Grade 1 Pacific Classic will take place at Del Mar as part of the "Win and You're In" series for the Breeders' Cup Challenge. The winner of the race will secure a spot in the $6 million Longines' Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park on November 4, with all expenses paid. Last year's Pacific Classic had Flightline as the 3-10 favorite, which he won by 19 ¼ lengths, which I witnessed firsthand. However, this year's race is up for grabs with a blend of 3-year-olds and older horses competing for a spot in the Breeders Cup Classic. You can catch live coverage of the race on FanDuel TV. Race 12 has been scheduled for 6:00 PM PT. Let's get the party started!
#1 Geaux Rocket Ride (5/2), Trained by Richard Mandella and ridden by Mike Smith
Owner: Pin Oak Stud
This racehorse, sired by Candy Ride, has won three races and one second-place finish in four starts, earning $780,200 throughout its career. Following an exceptional performance in the Grade 1 TVG Haskell Stakes, Geaux Rocket Ride is set to compete in the Pacific Classic on Saturday, aiming to become the sixth 3-year-old to win the race. Geaux Rocket Ride's impressive victory in the 1 1/8-mile Haskell was only its fourth race, as he overtook Arabian Knight on the far turn and outpaced Kentucky Derby winner Mage in the final stages to win by 1 ¾ lengths. Mage did not run well in last week’s Travers Stakes.
Geaux Rocket Ride is a top contender in the Pacific Classic for several reasons. Firstly, the horse has been expertly trained by Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella, who has shown great patience. Additionally, Geaux Rocket Ride has a pedigree that is well-suited for the 1 ¼-mile distance of the race, as he is the son of 2003 Pacific Classic winner Candy Ride. Finally, he will be ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who is tied with the late Garrett Gomez as the rider with the most victories in the Pacific Classic, having won four times. Trainer Mandella and jockey Mike Smith win 19% with an ROI of +40% when working together. Tough post in this large field. My Top Choice!
#2 Katonah (20-1), Trained by Doug O’Neill and ridden by Antonio Fresu
Owner: R3 Racing
A 4-year old Chesnut gelding by Kilmt has four wins, two seconds, and two thirds with career earnings totaling $210,180. Katonah is considered a longshot contender in the Pacific Classic. He's won his last two races under the guidance of Doug O'Neill, with his most recent win being his first in a stakes race. He earned a 112 Equibase Speed Figure in that race, which took place on July 9 at the Pleasanton Mile Stakes. During the race, Katonah stayed close to the pace and then took over in the final stretch, winning by a margin of 3 ¼ lengths. The Pleasanton Mile Stakes took place at the Alameda County Fairgrounds, a temporary venue that only holds races for a few weeks during the summer. As a result, this track's competition level is not as high as the top-tier racing events at Del Mar in California. Owns the second-fastest late pace speed figure (121) of this bunch. Use Underneath!
#3 Stiletto Boy (8/1) Trained by Ed Moger Jr. and ridden by Kent Desormeaux
Owner: Steve Moger
A 5-year old Chesnut gelding by Shackleford is not lightly raced with four wins, four seconds, and 9 thirds in 23 starts with career earnings of $1,816,175. This year has been the best so far for Stiletto Boy. It all started with a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes. Stiletto Boy returned to his base in Southern California and participated in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap, securing a win by outfinishing Proxy and Defunded at nearly 14/1 back in March. After that, he ran a fantastic third in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap in April in the Midwest, losing by a head to Proxy and Last Samurai. Stiletto Boy finished sixth in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Stakes at Ellis Park in Kentucky on July 1st, fading from third in the stretch but still earning an impressive 110-speed figure (Equibase). This will be his fifth race in just over 7 months. Toss!
#4 Tripoli (20/1), Trained by John Sadler and ridden by Tiago Pereira
Owner: Hronis Racing
A 6-year-old horse sired by Kitten's Joy has a record of five wins, four seconds, and four-thirds in 26 races, earning $968,260 throughout his career. In 2021, Tripoli emerged victorious in this particular race, thanks to a favorable journey that allowed him to outpace my horse, Tizamagican. Tizamagican has since retired to stud at Milky Way Farms in Temecula, CA, but Tripoli has yet to replicate that same performance level in his 12 subsequent races. During the past few months, the horse won only a one-mile allowance race on Golden Gate Fields' synthetic Tapeta surface in March. He has performed poorly in six ensuing Grade 1 or Grade 2 starts. His best performance at those levels was when he finished fifth by 3 ½ lengths in the July 29th 1 1/16-mile Grade 2 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar. Del Mar is the track where he has performed the best in his career. Toss!
#5 Defunded (4/1), Trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Juan Hernandez
Owners: Mike Pegram, Karl Watson, and Paul Weitman
A 5-year-old chestnut gelding by Dialed In has a record of 7 wins, four second-place finishes, and two third-place finishes in 18 starts, earning a total of $1,606,100 in its career. Defunded hopes to bounce back from a rare subpar performance in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap on July 29 at Del Mar. Despite being the 4/5 post-time favorite, Defunded finished fourth in that race. Over the past two years, he's established himself as one of the top older dirt horses in training. He won two Grade 1 stakes, including the 2022 Awesome Again Stakes and the 2023 Hollywood Gold Cup. In addition, he has won two other graded races, finished second in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup, and placed third in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap earlier this year. His running style is best suited for pacing and would work in his favor during the Pacific Classic. He has previously competed in three races at a distance of 1 ¼ miles. Out of those three races, he has a win and secured a place in the other two, all of which were Grade 1 stakes. He has 2 wins in six career starts at Del Mar. Trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Juan Hernandez win 34% together. Win Contender!
#6 Order and Law (30/1), Trained by Robert Hess Jr. and ridden by Edwin Maldonado
Owners: Larry Buckendorf, Jeffrey Lambert, Lawrence Rodriguez, Paul Schneider, and Matthew White
A seven-year-old horse named Order and Law, sired by Violence has had a successful career in racing. He has won eight races, placed second in six and third in two, earning a total of $456,804 in 42 starts. He has performed exceptionally well in one-mile or longer races, and most of his success has come since 2020. Order and Law had two trainers before Robert Hess Jr., who has trained him since May 2022. Under Hess's guidance, he has competed at various levels, including three starts in claiming races and several stakes appearances. Although he finished fourth in the Grade 3 Cougar II Stakes held at Del Mar last summer, covering a distance of 1 ½ miles, he caused an upset on July 23 of this year by winning the 2023 Cougar II by 2 ¼ lengths despite being an underdog with odds of nearly 15/1. It is worth noting that his speed and class ratings are not competitive compared to the other horses in this field. Toss!
#7 Slow Down Andy (8/1), Trained by Doug O’Neill and ridden by Mario Gutierrez
Owner: Reddam Racing
This chestnut colt by Nyquist has earned $976,600 with a record of 4 wins, 4 seconds, and two third-place finishes in 12 career starts at the age of 4. Slow Down Andy made his first start as a 4-year-old in June of this year. He disappointed in his debut by finishing sixth in the Hill 'n' Dale Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park, where Cody's Wish emerged victorious. However, Slow Down Andy showed significant improvement in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap on July 29, finishing second to longshot Senor Buscador by a margin of 1 ¼ lengths. He earned a career-best 113 Equibase speed figure, and the only fear is a bounce. He has had three solid workouts at Del Mar and could be poised for a career-best performance this Saturday. Horse for the course with one win and 3 seconds in four starts where the Turf meets the Surf. Win Contender!
#8 Senior Buscador (10/1), Trained by Todd Fincher and ridden by Geovanni Franco
Owner: Peacock Family Holdings
A 5-year-old Mineshaft son, Senior Buscador has won 6 out of 12 starts, placed third once, and earned $667,427 in his career. Senor Buscador enters the Pacific Classic after his career-best performance at Del Mar's local race, the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap, which he won by 1 ¼ lengths. During the 1 1/16-mile race, he settled at the back of the nine-horse field, gradually made up ground while traveling wide on the far turn, and unleashed a strong closing charge in the homestretch. Riding for the first time, Geovanni Franco and Senior Buscador achieved his career-best speed figure of 115. His speed figures have been consistent, as he has garnered triple-digit Equibase figures in eight out of his last nine starts. Very impressive. Owns the fastest late-pace speed figure (126) in the field. Live Long Shot!
#9 Arabian Knight (3/1), Trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Flavien Prat
Owner: Zedan Racing Stables
This 3-year-old colt sired by Uncle Mo has won two races and placed third in the other race, with career earnings of $644,275. Arabian Knight amassed an impressive amount of cash in just three-lifetime starts. In the Pacific Classic, Arabian Knight is expected to compete with his older and more experienced stablemate Defunded, as well with Geaux Rocket Ride, another 3-year-old who defeated him in Grade 1 TVG Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park on July 22. These three horses are the top contenders for the title and could be the favorites among the bettors. Arabian Knight won his prior two races by a combined 12 ¾ lengths before nearly a six-month break. One was the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park in January. He has been training consistently with Bob Baffert at Del Mar recently. In his second race after a layoff, he is expected to improve his performance and will be one of the leading speed threats in the Pacific Classic. Prat won this race with Flighline last year. Owns the second slowest late-pace speed figure (99.5) in the field. Win Contender!
#10 Piroli (20/1), Trained by Mike McCarthy and ridden by Umberto Rispoli
Owner: Don Alberto Stable
Piroli is a 4-year Bay gelding by Battle of Midway with a record of 3 wins, four second-place finishes, and two-thirds in 14 starts with career earnings of $237,300. He finished just one length behind Defunded in the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup at Santa Anita Park in his last race. Piroli achieved a career-best 107 Equibase speed figure in the Hollywood Gold Cup at this 1 ¼ mile distance. He finished fourth in a Del Mar allowance-optional claiming race of one-mile distance on July 30th and clocked a speed figure of 101. However, he stumbled at the start of the race and had a wide trip after that. If things go more smoothly this Saturday evening, Piroli might be in contention when the field hits the homestretch at a nice price. You have to question the reasoning behind dropping this horse to a lower class despite its impressive Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup showing. I greatly respect this horse's connections, but I have some concerns about him. Use Underneath!
#11 Skinner (10/1), Trained by John Shirreffs and ridden by Hector Berrios
Owner: C R K Stable
Skinner, a 3-year-old son of Curlin, has earned $241,300 from 7 starts, including one win, 1 second, and three third-place finishes. Skinner was considered a promising horse on the West Coast that could compete in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby. This was based on his performance in three consecutive races at Santa Anita Park, where he won his maiden race by 3 ¼ lengths, placed third in the San Felipe Stakes, and then finished an impressive third in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby. However, he was withdrawn from the Kentucky Derby due to an elevated temperature and did not race again until July 8. In the 1 1/8-mile Los Alamitos Derby, he ran wide in a small field and drifted in the stretch, ultimately finishing 2 ½ lengths behind Reincarnate. Owns the slowest late-pace speed figure (96) in the field. He has been training well for his connections, who are usually quite patient in picking their spots. Use Underneath!
My Selection: #1 Geaux Rocket Ride (5/2) to Win and Place
Follow Jeff on X @JHSPORTSLINE