Submitted by Jerry Antonucci on Friday, August 23, 2013 at 12:00 AM
Del Mar: Pacific Classic principals all have something to prove
DEL MAR, Calif. – It was quiet. Too quiet. The draw for the Pacific Classic, which became the soap-opera story of the summer one year ago, was a far more sedate affair Wednesday night at a local resort, with the two human participants in last year’s steel-cage death match both opting to sit this out.
The horses at the center of attention, though, were back, and while the raw emotions of last year’s pre-race build-up between Game On Dude and Richard’s Kid have evaporated – in part because both were defeated last year by Dullahan – there was some anxiousness when posts were assigned for Sunday’s race, and the draw provided the best unscripted moment of the evening.
Game On Dude’s entry slip was the first pulled for the 13-horse field. When it was subsequently announced that he landed post 11, co-owner Bernie Schiappa let out a loud and emphatic “Yes!” with those nearby stifling giggles. Schiappa’s concern over drawing an inside post was alleviated, as was his pent-up nervousness.
“That was a good draw, a very good draw,” Bob Baffert, who trains Game On Dude, said Thursday morning at Del Mar. “There are so many horses you don’t want to be inside.”
Game On Dude was installed as the 5-2 favorite for the Grade 1, $1 million race by Del Mar linemaker Russell Hudak, who made Dullahan the second choice at 7-2, with Richard’s Kid the co-fourth choice at 8-1.
Those three horses were the first three finishers in last year’s race – Dullahan, Game On Dude, and Richard’s Kid, in that order – but, a year later, each has something to prove.
Dullahan, winless in five starts since that Pacific Classic victory, needs to show he’s as good as he was a year ago. Game On Dude will try to win on Polytrack for the first time. And Richard’s Kid, who won the Pacific Classic in 2009 and 2010, will try at age 8 to become the first three-time winner of this race as well as the oldest.
Richard’s Kid was the focal point a year ago, when his private sale a week before the race rubbed raw emotions between the camps of Baffert, who had been training Richard’s Kid, and Doug O’Neill, who took over as the horse’s trainer. That led to the Battle at Burlap restaurant, where Jill Baffert, Bob’s wife, and Mark Verge, part of the ownership group that had just acquired Richard’s Kid, exchanged unpleasantries.
For nearly a year, that was about the most noise heard when it came to Richard’s Kid. Including last year’s Pacific Classic, Richard’s Kid had lost 10 straight races before a victory last time out in the Grade 3 Cougar II here on July 26. That gave him a record of four wins – two in the Cougar II, two in the Pacific Classic – in seven starts on Del Mar’s Polytrack, a surface over which he has never finished out of the money.
“Obviously, he had been off form, but we dreamt he’d win the Cougar again and be a major part of the Pacific Classic.” O’Neill said Thursday morning. “We like where we’re sitting now.”
The field, from the rail out, is Endorsement, Liaison, Holding Glory, Farraaj, You Know I Know, Richard’s Kid, Kettle Corn, Byrama, Dullahan, Delegation, Game On Dude, Jeranimo, and Blueskiesnrainbows.
The Pacific Classic is the ninth race on an 11-race card that begins an hour earlier than usual, at 1:05 p.m. Pacific. There are two other stakes, both Grade 2, on the card. The Pat O’Brien, a $250,000 race for sprinters going seven furlongs, drew a field of 13, including Santa Anita Derby winner Goldencents. The Del Mar Mile, a $200,000 turf race, has just five runners, with Obviously a heavy favorite. The Del Mar Mile will be run as the fifth race to keep it out of the pick six.