The highlight weekend of thoroughbred racing action at Del Mar featured four graded stakes races, including the Grade 1 $1 million Pacific Classic, which was won by Richard’s Kid for the second consecutive year.
Sent off as the 9-to-2 second choice under jockey Mike Smith, the five-year-old son of Lemon Drop Kid rallied from off the pace in similar fashion to last year’s victory to edge 12-to-1 long shot Crowded House by just under a length in the mile and a quarter race.
The win earned trainer Bob Baffert’s horse a repeat invite to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, which will be run this year at Churchill Downs in early November.
Breaking from the outside post, The Usual Q.T. was sent off as the 5-to-2 favorite, but had to settle for fifth after leading briefly at the top of the stretch. He is now winless in six tries over synthetic surfaces, but has won eight of his ten starts on turf.
Jockey Joel Rosario, who would win the other three stakes on the weekend, had to settle for third in the Classic aboard Dakota Phone. The five-year-old gelded son of Zavata, who was coming off a win in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap, may have run the best race in the Classic as the 8-to-1 fifth choice in the field of ten, but he was hung eight-wide turning for home and couldn't quite catch up to the winner.
Earlier in the day, Enriched led every step of the way on the turf course as the 2-to-1 favorite, holding off 7-to-1 long shot Meteore by three quarters of a length to capture the Grade 2 $250,000 Del Mar Mile for trainer Doug O’Neill.
The five-year-old son of High Brite was claimed by O’Neill for just $32,000 last year and earned a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Mile with the win. His older brother, Lava Man, was also an O’Neill claimed horse a few years ago that went on to earn over $5 million.
Bruce's Dream, who also went off at 2-to-1, settled for third after being closer to the early pace than he probably would have liked and not finding clear sailing through the stretch.
A close third in the wagering was the Australian champion Scenic Blast, who went off at 5-to-2 making his third start in the U.S. and only his second start around two turns. He never really got into the race and had to settle for fifth in the six horse field.
Saturday’s action culminated with Baffert’s El Brujo winning in wire to wire fashion with Rosario aboard in the Grade 1 $300,000 Pat O’Brien run over seven furlongs on the main track. He punched his ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint with the victory.
Making his second start for new owner Arnold Zetcher, the four-year-old son of Candy Ride, who had previously been running at Woodbine in Toronto, Canada, surprised the rest of the field with his front-running tactics and scored as the 7-to-2 third choice, holding off 2-to-1 second choice Crown of Thorns by half a length at the wire. Even money favorite Smiling Tiger had to settle for third.
Rounding out the weekend was Sunday’s Grade 2 $200,000 Del Mar Handicap run over a mile and three eights on the turf course.
Given a perfect rail skimming ride from off a blistering fast pace by Rosario, Champ Pegasus drew off as the 3-to-2 favorite to defeat 18-to1 long shot Buenos Dias by just over a length.
Trained by Richard Mandella, the four-year-old son of Fusaichi Pegasus won for the third time in four starts while capturing the first stakes victory of his career and earning a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
The race set up for runners coming from behind, as Red Eye Express and jockey Patrick Valenzuela went 1:10 for the first three quarters of a mile. Going that quickly early is not a recipe for success when running marathon distances on any surface, and he paid the price by faltering to finish seventh in the field of nine.
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