The grizzled seven-year-old gelding Game On Dude and the up-and-coming three-year-old Shared Belief share top billing for Sunday’s Grade 1, $1 million Pacific Classic, the signature race of the summer meeting at Del Mar.
Not only is there a $600,000 check to the victor, there is a free ticket to the Grade 1, $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic to the winner as the race is part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” series of races.
Game On Dude is the defending champion but since taking last year’s running has only managed to win one of six starts and the question remains whether the gelding has lost a step or two.
Shared Belief was the early betting favorite for the Kentucky Derby after winning the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity last December and was as low as 15-1 in early Kentucky Derby odds in February. However, he was knocked off the Derby Trail with foot issues.
The colt did not make his three-year-old debut until May 26, beating allowance foes at Golden Gate Fields, and then won the Los Alamitos Derby (G2) on July 5, his fifth win in as many starts.
The colt is the 5-2 morning-line favorite while Game On Dude is the second choice at 3-1.
High-Profile Owners Looking for a Classic Win
Both Shared Belief and Game On Dude have familiar owners that come from the sports world, and they both would like nothing better than competing on the big stage in the Breeders’ Cup again. Shared Belief is owned in part by Jim Rome’s Jungle Racing, while Game On Dude is owned in part by Hall of Famer Joe Torre.
Rome has already had success in the Breeders’ Cup, with Mizdirection taking the last two runnings of the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint.
The outspoken radio and television host did not have too many flattering things to say about the sport until he joined a partnership with Little Red Feather Racing in 2007, and the bug hit. He is now a Breeders’ Cup Ambassador and can’t get enough of the racetrack.
“Winning the first Breeders' Cup with Miz was one of the most spectacular and surreal moments of my entire life,” Rome told Jeff Bradley of Sports Illustrated. “Other than the day I married Janet and the birth of my two sons, it may have been the greatest day of my life. And then repeating a year later may have been even better.”
Torre first got hooked on playing the ponies thanks to the legendary Don Zimmer, who introduced the Yankees skipper to the late trainer Bobby Frankel.
Game On Dude has earned over $6.4 million and has won eight Grade 1 races. However, the gelding has come up short in the last two runnings of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, checking in ninth last year and seventh in 2012, both as the beaten favorite.
“I wish The Dude had done better in his two Breeders’ Cup Classics, because it is such a magical race experience, “ Torre wrote in Sports Illustrated. “The Breeders’ Cup Classic is the World Series -- the best of the best, head-to-head.”
A win by Shared Belief or Game On Dude will make them one of the favorites for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, which is now just over two months away.
Here are my selections for the Pacific Classic:
Win: Toast of New York
While Shared Belief and Game On Dude are the two most likely winners, both are going to be short prices, so I am going to look for more bang for my buck with Toast of New York. The colt made his U.S. debut on turf in the Belmont Derby (G1) where he weakened to finish sixth against a tough field. The winner Mr Speaker goes in Saturday’s Travers Stakes (G1) while the runner-up Adelaide came back to win the Secretariat Stakes (G1) at Arlington Park in his next outing.
The colt has done his best work over synthetic surfaces including winning the UAE Derby (G2) over the Tapeta surface at Meydan Race Course in March, his third win in four starts on a synthetic track. The colt is facing older, but Dullahan showed in 2012 that a three-year-old can beat older in this race. His 10-1 morning line looks attractive enough to give him a good look in this spot.
Place: Shared Belief
Foot issues knocked this colt out of the Triple Crown races, but by year-end, he could very well run past Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome as the best three-year-old in 2014. The gelding showed a ton of promise winning two stakes as a juvenile and his win in the Los Alamitos Derby (G2) on July 5 was quick.
He is proven over synthetics and will carry six less pounds than Game On Dude. There is a long-enough run to the first turn, so the outside draw should not pose a problem. His jockey, Hall of Famer Mike Smith is jumping off Game On Dude to stick with this gelding.
Show: Game on Dude
Every time it looks like Game On Dude has lost a step or two he runs big, and he could be sitting on a big one Sunday. His last outing was disappointing as he faded to finish fourth in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1), beaten by more than a dozen lengths. Two back he ran second in the Charles Town Classic (G2) over tight turns he really did not seem to care for, although he did win that race last year.
Back in March he ran one of his best races of his career winning the Santa Anita Handicap (G1), and last year he crushed the field in this race, drawing away to win by eight-and-a-half lengths. It would be no surprise to see him bounce back with a better effort than his last outing, but his price may end up on the short side.
Morning-lines odds courtesy of Del Mar Thoroughbred Club
Follow Michael Dempsey on Twitter @turfnsport