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Johnny D's Pacific Classic Picks, Analysis & Wagering Strategy

by Johnny D

August 15, 2019

Del Mar, or ‘Where the Turf Meets the Surf,’ if you prefer, presents its main event, the Pacific Classic, Saturday and the race has attracted a wide-open field of 10 runners. Horseplayers will be challenged to solve this puzzle like never before in recent memory. If you’re looking for a superstar, don’t bother. There isn’t one. Seeking the Soul, a 6-year-old horse who’s won 7 of 27 and $3.3 million, is as close as you’ll get. For the most part he’s faced stiff competition over the last few years, but his last two wins came in the Grade 2 Stephen Foster and in the 2018 Grade 3 Ack Ack--both at Churchill Downs, a track where he also won the 2017 Grade 1 Clark. There also seems to be a noticeable lack of speed in this race. It will be interesting to see how connections attack the early pace.

Below is one man’s opinion of the runners in the 2019 Pacific Classic:

1. War Story (Navarro/Pereira) - 8/1

This 7-year-old gelding fired a big shot last out to win the Grade 3 Monmouth Cup in late July. Seemingly defeated in the lane, he re-rallied gamely under Luis Saez to win by a head. It was his first win since March 2018, when he won a $100k stakes race. This will be his 36th career start and he’s got 7 wins and earned $2.8 million. In the last year, he’s mostly faced Grade 2 competition, so this is a step up on paper from that. If he runs like he did last time, he fits. Of note: he ran one of the best races of his life at Del Mar. However, it’s a big ask for an older horse to ship and to duplicate such a huge performance.

2. Quip (Brisset/Geroux) - 9/2

This lightly raced 4-year-old colt ran lights-out in the Stephen Foster last out, but it was a neck short to Seeking the Soul. Quip won the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap in the slop. That was his second start this year and he appears to finally be delivering on early promise. He could have a pace advantage in here and should use an inside post to enhance that advantage. The distance is a bit of a question. Still, Quip is consistent, capable and should be a decent price.

3. Pavel (O'Neill/Gutierrez) - 7/2

Winner of just 3 of 17 starts, Pavel has participated in some of the world’s top events in the last two years. He hasn’t won since the 2018 Grade 1 Foster, but he’s faced Grade 1 company worldwide in all but two races since then—4th in the Grade 2 San Pasqual slop and 3rd in the Grade 2 Suburban last out. His Suburban effort was solid and a repeat of that makes him live in here but he’s winless in 8 tries at the distance.

4. For the Top (Baffert/Garcia) - 12/1

It’s rare for a Bob Baffert stakes runner to be double-digit odds, but this guy deserves the honor. Would be surprised to see him affect the outcome.

5. Seeking the Soul (Stewart/Velazquez) - 3/1

He’ll probably start as the lukewarm favorite in here of his neck win last out in Churchill’s Foster. He’s the most consistent runner in the field but, like Pavel, the 6-year-old doesn’t win that often. He’s just 2 of his last 10 and must overcome a lack of early pace in here. He may win, but he’s certainly no bargain at this price.

6. Higher Power (Sadler/Prat) - 8/1

This Grade 1 race really is a step up in competition for the 4-year-old son of Medgalia d’Oro. He was 2nd in the Wickerr on Del Mar grass last out and is 2 for 8 on fast dirt. The meet’s leading owners enlist the meet’s leading rider for a top five trainer who’s won nearly every stakes race he’s recently entered! He’s a developing sort, so tread softly in this spot.

7. Tenfold (Asmussen/Smith) - 8/1

Winner of the Grade 3 Pimlico Special, this 4-year-old son of Curlin also claims the Grade 2 Jim Dandy as his own. He’s 4-for-9 on fast tracks but hasn’t really taken a big step forward. He’d have to do something quite a bit more powerful than he’s done in the past.

8. Campaign (Sadler/Bejarano) - 6/1

Trainer Sadler’s other entry in the race has a few things going for him. He’s 5-for10 lifetime, 2-for-5 on fast dirt, including victory in the Grade 3 Cougar II going a mile and one-half at Del Mar. His drawback is that he’s at the mercy of the early pace.

9. Mongolian Groom (Ganbat/Cedillo) - 20/1

Here’s a 20-1 shot that finished 2nd in a Grade 2 Del Mar stakes race last time out. Not too bad. This 4-year-old has only won 2-of-13 starts but has faced only graded-stakes competition since winning a first-level allowance race in February. Worth noting is that Mongolian Groom finished third, less than 4 lengths behind Gift Box and McKinzie, in the Santa Anita Handicap at a mile and one-quarter. Don’t think this one can win the race but he’s a real consideration for exotics at a big price.

10. Draft Pick (Eurton/Talamo) - 20/1

He finished just behind Mongolian Groom last out in the San Diego Handicap and has a sterling record of 8 in-the-money finishes out of 11 starts. While it took him a while to break his maiden, he’s been no worse than 3rd since in mostly graded-stakes company. A bullet five-furlong work in :59 3/5 caught the eye. He’s another one at a big price that could get a piece of this.

Betting the Pacific Classic: The Bottom Line

Makes Sense at the Price: #2 Quip
Because of a promising early career, a perceived pace advantage and a strong last race #2 Quip seems likely to run well.

Figures in the Money: #5 Seeking the Soul
Most consistent in the field, he should come running at the end. A lack of pace in the race could hurt his chances of winning.

Exotic Suggestions: #6 Higher Power, #9 Mongolian Groom, #10 Draft Pick
Three 4-year-olds offer decent odds and show signs of improvement. Too many positive connections with #6 Higher Power to ignore.  

$2 Trifecta ($40.00 Total)
#3, #5, #6, #8
#3, #5, #6, #8 #9, #10

$1 Trifecta ($20.00 Total)
#3, #5, #6, #8
#3, #5, #6, #8, #9, #10

Race On!