Sunday, August 28, 2011

Pacific Classic Preview

Yesterday I got back into handicapping by looking into the Travers Stakes, known as the "Mid-Summer Derby" as it generally features the top 3yos in the country.  Outside of Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, the 2011 version was no exeecption.  My top choice Stay Thirsty never let go of the lead and won by a little over a length in a pedestrian 2:03.03.  He paid $6.80, just a tad under the 5/2 I was seeking, but I bet him anyway.

Today's feature race is the $1,000,000 TVG Pacific Classic at Del Mar in California.  This race isn't quite as balanced as the Travers was, but there are still a few intriguing angles and storylines.

The morning line favorite is the Craig Family homebred Twirling Candy by Pacific Classic winning sire Candy Ride (ARG).  Very popular at the betting window, Twirling Candy has been favored in each of his last four starts, winning two Grade IIs, but coming up short in the two Grade I races he's entered.  While extremely talented and classy, I just don't think he wants to go 10 furlongs as evidenced by his 0-2 record at the distance despite being favored in both contests.  Also he's been unable to beat millionaire Game On Dude, who starts just to his inside in the 9 hole.  

See the replay of the Hollywood Gold Cup below, a key race won by since retired First Dude, with Game On Dude a game 2nd followed closely by Twirling Candy in 3rd and Setsuko a few lengths back in 4th.

Game On Dude likes the lead and has run two monster races at the 10 furlong distance of today's race, winning the Santa Anita Handicap by a nose while narrowly losing the aforementioned Hollywood Gold Cup. Trainer Bob Baffert knows how to win the Pacific Classic having saddled the winner Richard's Kid the past two years. He may get some pace pressure from Woodbine shipper Don Cavallo and turf superstar Acclimation, but he's proven to be able to run on and is certainly a top contender.

Acclimation is a total wildcard in this race. He’s arguably the top rated turf router in the country having won his past 3 races on the lawn, from 9f to 12f, by a combined 13 ¾ lengths. Unfortunately he’s 0-6 on synthetic surfaces with his last race a 3rd in the Grade II Strub at Santa Anita in February of 2010 at 21-1. He’s clearly a much better horse now, and if he can handle the Del Mar Polytrack, I think he’s a top contender.

Other Contenders

Don Cavallo is a nice horse, but is a step below these in class. 6yo Tres Borrachos owns a win over this surface having captured the Grade II San Diego Handicap on July 30 in late running fashion. He actually ran in the 2009 running of the Pacific Classic finishing a tiring 11th after leading from the gate for 3/4 of a mile. He has trouble at the 1 ¼ distance with only a 2nd in 5 starts, and while I don’t think he can win, he may factor in the exotics if the front runners fade. The Richard Mandella trained Setsuko is an interesting horse. His only win was a Maiden Sp Wt over 2 ½ years ago, but he’s won $475k and narrowly lost to Game on Dude by a nose in the Big Cap this March. Dick doesn’t enter his horses in these races unless he feels he can win, and he has won 3 prior Pacific Classics so I’ll go off the assumption Setsuko is primed for a big one. Capable, but no way I’m picking a horse with only a maiden victory to win this race. Jeranimo is another turfer trying the switch to synthetic, but he has had some success on surface in the past having won the Grade II Strub last year, defeating Acclimation in the process. His late running style could prove important as most of the other contenders (Game on Dude, Twirling Candy, Acclimation) do their best running on or near the lead.

My pick is going to be the longshot Jeranimo because I believe the race sets up well for him, and I don’t have faith in Twirling Candy at short odds at the 1 ¼ distance. I think Game On Dude will be game as usual, and Setsuko or Tres Borrachos could factor in the exotics as well.

Bet #2 Jeranimo to win

Bet exacta 2, 9 over 2, 3, 6, 9

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