by Umberto Rispoli
Saturday 21st August – Pacific Classic & Del Mar Oaks, Del Mar
There’s a huge weekend upcoming around the Pacific Classic, with classy horses and competitive fields wherever you look. It’s undoubtedly one of the highlights of the Del Mar summer. Notwithstanding the Breeders’ Cup making a welcome pit-stop at this picturesque La Jolla venue in early November, of course! But that’s still all to come this winter. For now, though, let’s simply enjoy the present, especially being back at the famous Fairgounds.
Before I get to this weekend’s big double-bill in the shape of the Del Mar Oaks and the feature Grade 1 Pacific Classic, a few of thoughts on the Del Mar track itself. As it’s my home base, I’ve ridden here in work and on racedays over the opening month of the season, and I must confess there’s been slightly less dirt on the track that in time gone by. I feel this has contributed to a bias towards the pacesetters, which has always been a noticeable advantage but seems even more pronounced this year. As usual, and like most US dirt surfaces, outside draws are favoured but not impossible to overcome. Nevertheless, the only insurmountable challenge appears to be the dreaded rail position, a significant worry for any horse occupying it for sure.
Back on the turf course, as I mentioned last month, the Del Mar ground-staff have done a wonderful job cultivating a lush covering of grass which gives everyone a fair shot, even if you can already hear the hooves rattle! And with the weather set fair for clear blue skies in the mid-20s, I’m expecting few surprises from the elements. Therefore, make no mistake, this turf is on the firm side and will only quicken up as the weekend action unfolds.
Right, now on to this weekend’s main events…
Umberto’s Del Mar Oaks Big Race 1-2-3:
Winner: Going Global
Place: Fluffy Socks
Closing Remarks – may be listed amongst the outsiders, but my horse certainly has place credentials. She tried the dirt last time which wasn’t to her liking so you can put a line through that supposedly lacklustre effort. It just wasn’t her. She remains in good heart at home and will relish the return to the turf here. I couldn’t be confident with the likes of Going Global in opposition, but I wouldn’t put you off taking her for a place.
Going Global – well, even the best-laid plans went awry for this superb filly last time when her winning streak came to an end at the hands of Madone who naturally renews rivalry here. That was a shock result to some extent, although Going Global didn’t have the best of passages, even if I’d struggle to say it was troubled. Still, my heart and mind align that this is the best filly in town – and it’s a familiar town where they all seem have raced against each other along progressively exposed form-lines. I expect her to regain the winning thread.
Madone – true, there was no real fluke about Madone turning over the favourite last time, and time itself may well prove she’s right up there with the better three-year-old fillies by the end of this campaign. There’s no reason to leave Madone out of the three, but all things being equal Going Global should exact her revenge and turn the tables in my book.
Fluffy Socks – you could throw a horse-blanket over most of the market principals in terms of draw. The admirable Javanica could put the pace to the race, while Soaring Sky (on whom I was offered the ride) is an unknown quantity from across the pond for the formidable Jessie Harrington team. Still, Fluffy Socks may edge them both. I’ve so much respect for Chad Brown, particularly when he ships something to the West Coast. It’s a tip in itself, just check out the stats. Therefore, I’d marginally give this one the edge in the places over my own mount, Closing Remarks.
Umberto’s Pacific Classic Big Race 1-2-3:
Winner: Express Train
Danger: Dr Post
Place: Royal Ship
Saturday’s Grade 1 $1 million Pacific Classic has attracted a white-hot, nine-runner field in which local Grade 2 San Diego Handicap prep winner Express Train will break from gate five as a well-drawn but lukewarm favourite. Only one horse has won the Pacific Classic and Breeders’ Cup Classic in the same calendar year (Accelerate landed the double in 2018 and received the Eclipse Award as champion older dirt male for the year) so be sure you’re looking for a horse that in peak condition this week, not months down the track in the grand World Championships finale.
Express Train – and that opening stanza is basically the reason why I narrowly prefer Express Train here. The Pacific has been his target for a while and there’s no thought for tomorrow about his camp, he’s been trained with this day in mind. He was the fastest in midweek work at the track, comfortably outpointing a useful stablemate in the process, and has already proved his comfort level with this different type of California dirt. That’s important because the Del Mar dirt has an unusual feel to other states, so it takes some knowing.
Dr Post – won the Westchester and Monmouth Cup this year on the East Coast and was runner-up in last year’s Belmont Stakes, so his strong credentials are there for all to see. Joel Rosario will be back aboard the son of Quality Road here, which can only help his chances.
Royal Ship – listed as a tissue 7-2 second poke, having reverted from turf to dirt as the victor of the Grade 2 Californian in in April. He is readily preferred to stablemate Tizamagician, dropping back in distance from a recent Grade 3 Del Mar win, who is the second-string of an uncoupled entry for Richard Mandella. Both horses have fuel to burn from the stalls, but will be eager not to cut each other’s throats, especially as the Pacific Classic has witnessed some last-gasp rallies and collapses in its history. Mike Smith, who is tied for the most Pacific Classic wins with four, will fancy his chances aboard this Brazilian-bred.
Tripoli – if there is to be a late closer to dig out the win in the shadow of the wire, it may well be Tripoli. I rode him a couple of times on the grass, and kept telling connections to stick him on the dirt for the benefit of his action – and he’s really made the leap to devastating effect, it appears.
Magic On Tap – stumbled at the start of the San Diego, and postures to be more forwardly placed with a clean start. He bounces from trap six, just outside Express Train and could apply pressure after winning the Triple Bend sprinting at Santa Anita this spring. Magic On Tap’s trainer Bob Baffert has won the Pacific Classic six times, tied with Bobby Frankel for the race’s all-time lead.
The Pacific Classic is contested over 1 ¼ miles, the same distance as the Breeders’ Cup Classic and the Kentucky Derby. Consequently, no surprise that this year the Pacific Classic is a “Win and You’re In” qualifying race for the aforementioned BCC, which means that the winner of the Pacific Classic will receive an all-expenses-paid berth in the starting gate of the $6 million Classic in the Fall.
Other big-race weekend fancies
After a welcome and deserved few months off from racing, Grade 1 winner Hit The Road will return in the $300,000 Del Mar Mile Stakes, a Grade 2 also staged Saturday at Del Mar. There have been no problems with the horse, he just runs well fresh, so connections have been wise to exercise patience. He could be on the way to a rematch with my old chum Smooth Like Strait later this year, having just pipped him last time out. I obviously hugely respect both horses and their trainers and hope Hit The Road can bolster his CV here – even if I may plan for a marginally different result in November, since I chose the wrong horse last time. But that’s the lot of a jockey in a sport of opinions. In short, we’ll see!
A spectacular day concludes with the ever-competitive Del Mar Handicap, won last year by Red King with me aboard. So, many may be surprised to see I’m not on top this weekend. I’d actually already committed to another contender, which then pulled up with a small injury at home, and in the meantime Red King’s connections had booked Joel to deputise for me. Fair enough, that’s race-riding, and the faster they go the better for a repeat performance from him. United, however, is my pick and the likely favourite, with Acclimate an assured pacemaker who could set it up for him. As I say, it’s the most open race of the day, and things can invariably get tactical on the grass. But United could be a fairly decent price, despite his prominent rank in the betting.
… right, that’s my lot. I’ll be back in a couple of weeks to assess a dazzling big-race triple-feature in the form of Del Mar’s Futurity, Derby & Debutante at the start of September. Until then, stay lucky!”
Umberto Rispoli – Top-Jockey
Der ehemalige zweifache italienische Champion hat weltweit auf höchstem Niveau gewonnen, von Frankreich bis Japan und Hongkong. Letztes Jahr wechselte er über den Atlantik nach Nordamerika, wo er von seiner neuen Basis in Kalifornien aus seine Liebe zum Rennreiten neu entfacht hat, wie er sagt. Die Akklimatisierung erfolgte sofort und Umberto kam sogar bis auf einen Sieg an den führenden Jockey des Sommers in Del Mar heran.