Five Questions to be Answered in the Pacific Classic


By Joe Kristufek, courtesy America's Best Racing

Run over 1 ¼ miles on dirt, Saturday’s $1 million TVG Pacific Classic Stakes at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club is a Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” qualifying race for the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Trainer Bob Baffert (Arrogate and Collected) has won the Pacific Classic four times - General Challenge (1999), Richard's Kid (2009 and 2010) and Game On Dude (2013).

Mike Smith (Arrogate) is tied with Garrett Gomez for the most Pacific Classic wins by a jockey with four – Came Home (2002), Richard’s Kid (2009 and 2010) and Shared Belief (2014).

The Pacific Classic will be broadcast on NBCSN from 8 - 9 p.m. ET as part of the network’s “Win and You’re In” series presented by Lane’s End and America’s Best Racing.

Here are five questions that must be answered in the TVG Pacific Classic:

1. Why did Arrogate run so poorly in the San Diego?

Off an amazing string of visually impressive grade one wins in the Travers Stakes, Breeders’ Cup Classic, Pegasus World Cup Invitational and Dubai World Cup, Arrogate was sent off as the 1-20 favorite against what appeared to be an overmatched bunch in the locally run TVG San Diego Handicap.

Not only did he lose, he barely raised a gallop, finishing a super dull fourth behind romping front runner Accelerate.

Legendary horses lose, but running that poorly was disturbing. Arrogate came back fine physically and he hasn’t missed a beat in training since. To say it was a puzzling performance would be a vast understatement.

Joe’s answer: The only excuse Bob Baffert could come up with was that he was overconfident and may have undertrained the horse. Some outsiders blamed a “Dubai hangover.” Tell that to Gun Runner, Keen Ice, Mind Your Biscuits and Neolithic, all of whom won off the desert layoff.

One and one-sixteenth miles is not his best distance, and the Del Mar main track has been speed favoring, but Arrogate should have been more competitive. To say he didn’t like the track certainly doesn’t fit the profile of a horse who not only won here last year, but over four other different surfaces (Santa Anita, Saratoga, Gulfstream and Meydan). Since the Breeders’ Cup Classic is at Del Mar, Baffert would like to see him bounce back here, versus ducking the track and sending him to Saratoga for the Woodward Stakes on Sept. 2.

2. Why is Baffert running Collected against Arrogate?

A marginal player on the Triple Crown trail last year, Collected’s claim to fame as a 3-year-old was winning the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland. Following a sloppy track clunker in the Preakness, he was shelved to await his 4-year-old campaign. He’s returned bigger, better and faster, winning three consecutive California stakes by a combined 21 ½ lengths.

Baffert considered sending him to the Woodward, but he’s elected to ship Cupid, who aired in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita in his seasonal debut, to New York instead.

Joe’s answer: With questions surrounding Arrogate, Collected gives Baffert another live shot at the Pacific Classic, and the $600,000 winner’s share of the purse, in his own backyard.

By City Zip out of a Johannesburg mare, Collected’s pedigree suggests he should be a turf miler, so there’s some question about his want for 1 1/4 miles. That being said, he handled 1 1/8 miles with relative ease in the Californian Stakes last April. There’s no question that he’s earned a shot in the Pacific Classic and that the timing is right.

3. Can Accelerate duplicate his dominating San Diego performance?

Ironically enough, both times they’ve met, Accelerate finished in front of Arrogate.

The first time was in both of their career debuts when Accelerate was second and Arrogate third in a six-furlong maiden race at Los Alamitos.

Accelerate hasn’t accomplished nearly as much as Arrogate since, but he does have a nice set of past performances, including a win in the Los Alamitos Derby and a third in Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.

Adding blinkers for the first time in the San Diego, Accelerate set an even pace and extended his margin of victory to 8 ½ lengths at the wire for trainer John Sadler.

Joe’s answer: The blinkers appear to have taken Accelerate to a new level. His dam Issues was more of a sprinter/miler, but she only ran eight times and never got much of a shot to route. Neither of her two best foals are two-turn dirt horses. That being said, by Lookin At Lucky, there are some distance influences in Accelerate’s overall pedigree.

Accelerate is a nice horse. He should run another big race. Whether or not it’s good enough to win remains to be seen.

4. How do see the Pacific Classic pace scenario unfolding?

Joe’s answer: It will be interesting to see how jockeys Martin Garcia aboard Collected and Victor Espinoza on Accelerate play their hand. Chances are they just fall out of there and run at an honest, yet reasonable clip, with San Diego runner-up Donworth in the chasing queue. Remember, Arrogate wired the Travers through honest splits, so he’s certainly capable of sticking closer to the early proceedings…if he’s the same horse. Baffert has indicated that he wants Mike Smith in the race earlier.

5. Who wins the Pacific Classic and why?

Joe’s answer: It will be interesting to see where the win pool dollars land. Arrogate certainly won’t be 1-20 again, but will be the defined favorite. Many won’t trust him off the San Diego clunker, and Collected and Accelerate are both playable commodities.

Collected and Accelerate are unproven at a 10-furlong distance that Arrogate relishes.

Is Arrogate worth playing at 3-5? In terms of risk versus reward, no, but I still believe he’s the most likely winner, and personally I’d like to see him bounce back in a big way.

Joe’s Pacific Classic picks: 1. Arrogate 2. Collected 3. Accelerate 4. Donworth