The road to what looks like a Breeders’ Cup Classic there for the taking begins in earnest Saturday at Del Mar, when ACCELERATE starts as the 8-5 favorite against seven rivals on Saturday in the $1 million “Win and You’re In” TVG Pacific Classic (GI). The Pacific Classic, run at 1 ¼ miles, will offer the fifth of seven automatic starting berths into the November 3 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Churchill Downs and headlines a stakes-loaded card at Del Mar, which also features the “Win and You’re In” Del Mar Handicap Presented by the Japan Racing Association (GII), which will offer an automatic starting berth into the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1).
Hronis Racing’s Accelerate (Joel Rosario, post 5) rates at the leader of the handicap division off wins in the Santa Anita Handicap (GI) in March and Gold Cup at Santa Anita (GI) May 26 Video for trainer John Sadler, and will look to kickstart a big second-half campaign when he returns off a brief freshening in the Pacific Classic. The 5-year-old son of Lookin At Lucky was third in last year’s renewal before disappointing at 7-2 when ninth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) at Del Mar, though he has won 3-for-5 over the local surface. Accelerate is 7-for-19 lifetime but still needs to prove he can see out 1 ¼ miles, as he tired late in last year’s Classic in his only start at the distance.
Paul Reddam’s PAVEL (Mario Gutierrez, post 7, 7-2), already secured a berth into the Breeders’ Cup Classic when he won Churchill Downs’ “Win and You’re In” Stephen Foster (GI) June 16 for trainer Doug O’Neill, though no one in that race would come close to the talent level of Accelerate. The 4-year-old son of Creative Cause has handled an extremely busy and ambitious schedule over the past year with aplomb and seems to be moving forward after a quartet of consecutive fourth-place finishes, including the Dubai World Cup (GI) at Meydan in March. Pavel is 3-for-10 lifetime, though he’ll need to improve after running fourth behind Accelerate in both the San Pasqual (GII) at Santa Anita in February and Gold Cup.
Trainer Bob Baffert, who has won the Pacific Classic five times, including last year with Collected, will start the 5-year-old DR. DORR (Joe Talamo, post 2, 6-1), who won the Californian Stakes (G2), was second in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1) and was most recently second in the 1 1/16-mile San Diego Handicap on July 21 (G2) over the track. Of international intrigue is 4-year-old ROMAN ROSSO (ARG) (Flavian Prat, post 4, 5-1), who will be making his U.S. debut since winning three straight Group 1 races in South America, including the 1 ¼-mile Gran Premio Latinamericano (G1) on turf in Uruguay for trainer Jorge Mayansky Neer. PRIME ATTRACTION (Kent Desormeaux, post 3, 8-1), was third in the Eddie Read Stakes (G2) on Turf and Mr. and Mrs. William K. Warren’s 5-year-old THE LIEUTENANT (Drayden Van Dyke, post 1, 6-1), second in the Suburban Stakes (G2) at Belmont Park.
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Among the longshots, Levy Racing’s BEACH VIEW (Rafael Bejarano, post 6, 15-1) owns potentially the best chance of an upset, as he rates as the lone stakes winner at the meet, having won the 1 ½-mile Cougar II (GIII) July 25 for trainer Leonard Powell. The Richard-Baltas-trained 4-year-old TWO THIRTY FIVE (Franklin Ceballos, post 8, 20-1), fourth in the San Diego, completes the field.
The Pacific Classic winner will join Nonkono Yume (JPN), who won the February Stakes (GI) in February at Tokyo Racecourse, Foster winner Pavel, Good Magic, who won the Haskell (GI) in July at Monmouth Park and Diversify, who won Saratoga’s Whitney (GI) August 4 as “Win and You’re In” qualifiers for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The September 29 Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI) at Belmont Park, and Awesome Again (GI) at Santa Anita, round out the automatic bids for the Classic.
Del Mar Handicap to Offer Turf Bid on Classic Undercard
The “Win and You’re In” Del Mar Handicap Presented by the Japan Racing Association headlines the Pacific Classic undercard and will award an automatic starting berth into the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf. Run at 1 3/8 miles, the Del Mar Handicap will likely have a sizable field, with Red Baron’s Barn’s ITSINTHEPOST (FR) expected to go favored in an effort to better his second-place finish in last year’s renewal.
Itsinthepost has been a stalwart in the California turf ranks for the past two seasons for trainer Jeff Mullins, as he’s won seven Grade II stakes. The a 6-year-old son of American Post (GB) rarely fires a dud but will enter off a ninth-place finish in the local Eddie Read (GII) July 22, though the 1 1/8 miles was far short of his best distance. Itsinthepost is 10-for-36 lifetime, though those looking to beat him will point to his 0-for-10 record over the local Jimmy Durante turf course.
Head of Plains Partners’ KENJISTORM was second to Itsinthepost in Santa Anita’s Charlie Whittingham (GII) May 26 and rates as the main danger in his return for trainer Phil D’Amato. The 6-year-old son of Stormy Atlantic is 5-for-31 lifetime and has found his best form this year and could be in line for a big second half of the season. ASHLEYLUVSSUGAR, CAMINO DEL PARAISO, CASHMAN (FR), FASHION BUSINESS (GB), MULTIPLIER, UNAPOLOGETIC, WHOOP WHOOP (NZ) and YA GOTTA WANNA are also pointing to the Del Mar Handicap Presented by the Japan Racing Association.
Alabama Kicks Off Big Stretch at Saratoga
The non-stop summer stakes action continues Saturday at Saratoga in Upstate New York, when the $600,000 Alabama (GI) will be run at the classic distance of 1 ¼ miles for 3-year-old fillies. A short field is expected, due in large part to the presence of Bloom Racing Stable, Madakat Stable and Allen Racing’s MIDNIGHT BISOU, who figures to be an odds-on proposition for trainer Steve Asmussen.
Midnight Bisou, a daughter of 2007 and 2008 Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Midnight Lute, has won 4-of-6 starts this year, with her only two defeats coming at the hands of divisional leader Monomoy Girl, when third in the Kentucky Oaks (GI) at Churchill Downs and second in the Coaching Club American Oaks (GI) over the local surface July 22. In between she won Santa Anita’s Santa Ysabel (GIII) in March and Santa Anita Oaks (GI) in April for trainer Bill Spawr and Belmont Park’s Mother Goose (GII) in June, in what was her first start for Asmussen. Midnight Bisou is 4-for-8 lifetime, though she is winless in two tries past 1 1/16 miles.
Team Valor International, Stephen McKay and trainer Randolphe Brisset’s TALK VEUVE TO ME looks like the main danger after stretching out to two turns for the first time and running off to a 4 ¾-length win in the Indiana Oaks (GIII) at Indiana Grand July 14. The daughter of Violence was second to Monomoy Girl in Belmont Acorn (GI) in June and is 2-for-4 lifetime. AUSPICIOUS BABE, COACH ROCKS, ESKIMO KISSES, FIGARELLA’S QUEEN and SHE’S A JULIE are also pointing to the Alabama.
The Alabama is the perfect momentum builder for what is one of racing’s biggest days, the August 25 Travers Day card, which is highlighted by the Mid-Summer Derby for 3-year-olds, but also includes four “Win and You’re In” Breeders’ Cup qualifiers on a day when no fewer than six grade I stakes and seven graded stakes overall are run. The 1 ¼-mile Travers is expected to include reigning Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and 2-year-old champion GOOD MAGIC, who already secured a berth into this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic when he won Monmouth Park’s “Win and You’re In” Haskell Invitational (GI) July 29. Competition abounds however, as Preakness runner-up BRAVAZO, grade I turf winner CATHOLIC BOY, Belmont runner-up GRONKOWSKI, local Jim Dandy (GII) winner TENFOLD and the star filly WONDER GADOT, who has beaten males twice in Canada, are also expected.
The Travers clearly anchors the card, but the quartet of grade I Challenge races hardly take a backseat and will certainly prove a springboard to Churchill Downs later this fall. The “Win and You’re In” Sword Dancer, which will award an automatic starting berth into the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf serves as the co-feature, while the Personal Ensign (Longines Distaff), Ballerina (Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint) and Forego (Las Vegas Dirt Mile) support the card and are expected to draw fields brimming with Breeders’ Cup potential.
Army Mule Returns to Training with Breeders’ Cup in Mind
St. Elias Stable’s ARMY MULE, who is undefeated in three starts and was last seen winning Aqueduct’s Carter (GI) by 6 ¼ lengths April 7, returned to trainer Todd Pletcher Saratoga barn after a brief freshening and will point to either the Breeders’ Cup Sprint or Dirt Mile later this fall at Churchill Downs. The 4-year-old son of Friesan Fire is 3-for-3 lifetime and has yet to be tested in any of his starts. Army Mule broke his maiden on debut at Belmont Park by 8 ½ lengths in April 2017 and retuned at Gulfstream Park and won an optional-claimer by 7 ½ lengths in January before the Carter. Pletcher indicated he’ll talk with St. Elias owner Vinnie Viola before plotting a path to Louisville.
“I need to talk to Mr. Viola a little more about it specifically,” Pletcher said. “We do have the Breeders’ Cup in mind, but we’re not sure which race yet. Ideally, we’ll get one start in between now and the Breeders’ Cup.”
COUNTOWN TO THE BREEDERS’ CUP WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
A listing of the upcoming major stakes races this weekend:
BREEDERS’ CUP CLASSIC
August 18 – $1 million TVG Pacific Classic (GI) at Del Mar. Run at 1 ¼ miles for 3yos & up.
LONGINES BREEDERS’ CUP DISTAFF
August 18 – $600,000 Alabama (GI) at Saratoga. Run at 1 ¼ miles for 3yo fillies.
August 18 – $100,000 Monmouth Oaks (GIII) at Monmouth Park. Run at 1 1/16 miles for 3yo fillies.
BREEDERS’ CUP MILE
August 19 – $175,000 Play the King (GII) at Woodbine. Run at seven furlongs on the turf for 3yos & up.
August 19 – $200,000 Del Mar Mile (GII) at Del Mar. Run at 1-mile on the turf for 3yos & up.
LONGINES BREEDERS’ CUP TURF
August 18 – $250,000 Del Mar Handicap (GII) at Del Mar. Run at 1 3/8 miles on the turf for 3yos & up.
August 19 – $175,000 Sky Classic (GII) at Woodbine. Run at 1 3/8 miles on the turf for 3yos & up.
BREEDERS’ CUP FILLY & MARE TURF
August 18 – $300,000 Del Mar Oaks (GI) at Del Mar. Run at 1 1/8 miles on the turf for 3yo fillies.
August 18 – $300,000 Lake Placid (GII) at Saratoga. Run at 1 1/8 miles on the turf for 3yo fillies.
August 19 – $298,673 Darley Prix Jean Romanet (GI) at Deauville. Run at 1 ¼ miles on the turf for fillies & mares.
BREEDERS’ CUP JUVENILE TURF
August 20 – $418,142 Darley Prix Morny (GI) at Deauville. Run at six furlongs on the turf for 2yos.