A lot is at stake Aug. 24 in the $1-million Pacific Classic (gr. I) at Del Mar, which marks not only one of the most prestigious races of the year on the West Coast, but also earns the winner an automatic spot in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships Oct. 24-25 at Santa Anita Park.
A local challenger, 6-year-old Surf Cat is one of the most accomplished horses in the field and will enter the race off a second-place effort in the San Diego Handicap (gr. II) at Del Mar.
“He’s been training up very well,” said Karen Headley, assistant to her father, Bruce, who conditions Surf Cat. “His miles are consistently getting faster. He’s kind of a tough horse to train; he’s got a mind of his own.”
Other possible horses for the Pacific Classic include Awesome Gem, Barcola, Delosvientos, Go Between, Mast Track, McCann's Mojave, Mostacolli Mort, Out of Control, Well Armed, Zappa, and Student Council, who scored an upset win over Lava Man in last year’s running of the race.
The 1 1/4-mile Pacific Classic would mark the initial grade I victory for the son of Sir Cat, who has won six grade II events during his career, including this year’s Mervyn LeRoy Handicap at Hollywood Park and the San Carlos Handicap at Santa Anita for the second time.
“He’s been brought along and seasoned well,” said Karen Headley, who was filling in for her father during an Aug. 19 National Thoroughbred Racing Association teleconference. “He’s put together well, but has had a couple of foot problems, so we backed off of him (this year),” she explained of the horse’s brief layoffs throughout the season.
When asked if the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile could be in Surf Cat’s future, Headley seemed hopeful. “This weekend for us is going to be huge,” she said. Bruce and Karen Headley will also send out Arson Squad in the Pat O’Brien Handicap (gr. II) and Magnificience in the Rancho Bernardo at Del Mar the same day.
“We’re going in with high hopes, and by that night, some could be shut down, but (Surf Cat) is such a versatile horse and has a great kick going short, medium, and long. I would love to see him get into any Breeders’ Cup race," Headley said.
Arson Squad, who was given nearly a six-month break from training this year, is pointed toward the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I), while grade III winner Magnificience is a hopeful for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, depending on her upcoming effort in the Rancho Bernardo.
“(Arson Squad) had been in training since we had broken him,” said Headley of the son of Brahms, who most recently won the July 8 Swaps Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. II) at Hollywood Park. “He needed a little time off because he wasn’t racing up to his potential, and he’s coming back really well. He’s a very easy horse to train, and the farther he goes, the better he gets.”
A dual grade II winner, Arson Squad is looking to redeem himself after finishing off the board in two starts this year. He has won five of 17 starts.