Eyeing an Upset Candidate in 2020 Pacific Classic Stakes
Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire
Courtesy of Ellis Starr of America's Best Racing
The Grade 1, $500,000 TVG Pacific Classic Stakes, a “Win and You’re In” race for the $7 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic, drew a field of six. This is partly because there are many opportunities this summer in the top tier of the Classic division and also because Maximum Security is entered in the race.
Coming off a win in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap over the track last month, Maximum Security is going for his sixth straight win. In his only previous try at the classic distance, Maximum Security crossed the finish line in front in the 2019 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve before being disqualified for interference. Higher Power is the only other horse in the field with a win at the distance, that victory coming in last year’s Pacific Classic in an upset at 9.60-1 odds. Since then, Higher Power has finished second once and third three times in five starts. Sharp Samurai moves to dirt after running on grass since April 2017 in his third career start. A multiple Grade 2 stakes winner, Sharp Samurai enters the race off a runner-up effort in the Grade 2 Eddie Read Stakes last month. Midcourt was second, beaten a nose, in the San Diego behind Maximum Security and won the Grade 2 San Pasqual Stakes in February, so he fits with these. Dark Vader has finished in the money in a few stakes in his career, most recently when third in the Grade 2 Triple Bend Stakes in June and before that when beaten a neck in the Grade 3 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap last summer. He enters the race off a win in an allowance race on this main track. Mirinaque makes his U.S. debut with a fine record of four wins and four runner-up finishes from nine races in his native Argentina, most recently when second of 17 in a race at this mile and one-quarter distance, but on turf.
Based on how fast he’s run, Sharp Samurai can post the upset in this year’s Pacific Classic, the only question being whether he can transform his recent effort last month in the Eddie Read Stakes to dirt. In that race, Sharp Samurai rallied from last of six into a moderate pace and was gaining on the favorite and eventual winner United. Beaten just a half-length at the finish line, Sharp Samurai earned a 118 Equibase Speed Figure. To put that in perspective, Maximum Security earned a 107 figure winning the San Diego Handicap last month. Maximum Security’s career-best speed figure of 123 came when winning the Cigar Mile Handicap last December, but Sharp Samurai earned a very similar career-best figure (122) winning the 2018 City of Hope Mile Stakes.
As the purpose of a speed figure is to normalize all horses’ performance regardless of surface or distance, it’s fair to say Sharp Samurai can run as fast as Maximum Security. As Sharp Samurai and Maximum Security match up in terms of how fast they can run, with those figures better than any of the other four runners in the race have earned, the question then becomes whether Sharp Samurai can run as well on dirt as he did on turf. That question is answered in two ways. The first is Sharp Samurai ran his first three races on dirt, winning in his second start at a mile by nine lengths. Using Stats Race Lens to answer the second, we can look up the performance of sons and daughters of his sire, First Samurai, at longer distances on dirt. Going back five years, a simple Stats Race Lens query reveals those horses have won eight of 39 races on dirt from 1 1/8 miles to 1 3/8 miles. That tells me there is no question Sharp Samurai can run as well on dirt as he has on turf, and therefore he can give probable overwhelming favorite Maximum Security all he can handle in the Pacific Classic.
There’s not much more to be said about Maximum Security other than what was stated above. He has shown he can handle the distance successfully as when winning the Kentucky Derby (although he was disqualified for interference). He was transferred to the barn of Bob Baffert before the San Diego Handicap, and considering he had been away from the races for five months that effort with a 107 figure may be exceeded significantly in his second start off the rest. Still, in the San Diego, Midcourt battled with Maximum Security for the entire last eighth of a mile and, although Maximum Security prevailed by a nose, it wasn’t the kind of dominant effort we saw in his last three victories of 2019. Therefore, if Maximum Security does not improve in his second race off the layoff he could be beaten.
Higher Power was privately purchased between March and May of 2019 and sent to the barn of John Sadler. His first start for the new connections resulted in a fifth-place finish in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita. Following that he won an allowance race on turf and finished second in a stakes on the grass. Then, in the 2019 Pacific Classic, Higher Power stalked the pacesetter in second and drew off to win by five lengths, earning a 113 speed figure. Taking time off following a third-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Higher Power shipped to Florida and ran poorly (10th) in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational, then finished second in this year’s Hollywood Gold Cup with a 111 figure. He didn’t run nearly as well when third behind Maximum Security and Midcourt last month in the San Diego Handicap, but it could be the 1 1/16-mile distance was too short for him at this stage of his career. Stretching back out to 1 ¼ miles, Higher Power could reach back and find the effort he put forth in last year’s Classic to be a factor.
The rest of the field (with best Equibase Speed Figure): Dark Vader (114), Midcourt (112), and Mirinaque (120).
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