Lava Man and A.P. Xcellent, who staged a dramatic Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) stretch duel won by the California star by a nose on June 30, are among 13 horses entered in the $1-million Pacific Classic (gr. I) at Del Mar Aug. 19.
In 2006, the 6-year-old gelding Lava Man became the first horse to sweep California's three major events for older horses -- the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I), the Hollywood Gold Cup and the Pacific Classic -- in the same year. With a Pacific Classic win, he would duplicate that feat. But his presence did not deter any rivals for the 1 1/4-mile event, which will be contested on Del Mar's new Polytrack surface for the first time. The post position draw for the 17th running of Del Mar's signature race was set for the night of Aug. 15.
The Pacific Classic will be run as the eighth on the 10-race card, which includes two other graded races, the Del Mar Mile (gr. IIT) and the Pat O’Brien Handicap (gr. II). The winners of each race will earn a spot in the corresponding race in the Breeders' Cup series in October. Post time for the first race Aug. 19 is 1 p.m., rather than the normal 2 p.m.
If all 13 start it will be the second-largest field for the Pacific Classic, topped only by the 14 that ran in 2002 when the 3-year-old Came Home, ridden by Mike Smith, become only the third 3-year-old to win it.
Three-year-olds in the race carry 117 pounds, while older horses tote 124.
The field will be led by defending champion Lava Man, who won last year's Pacific Classic by 2 1/2 lengths. The son of Slew City Slew also has won the past two editions of the Santa Anita Handicaps and past three Hollywood Gold Cups.
Back to battle the Doug O'Neill trainee Lava Man from the Gold Cup are runner-up A.P. Xcellent, beaten at the wire in a superb effort after setting all the fractions in the 1 1/4-mile event on Hollywood's Cushion Track surface. Big Booster, only three-quarters of a length behind the winner while third, and fourth-place finisher Porfido, also ran in the Gold Cup.
A.P. Xcellent, conditioned by John Shirreffs, returned to run fifth of six in the 1 3/8-mile Cougar II Handicap as a tune-up on the Del Mar turf course Aug. 1.
Four contenders come from Del Mar’s San Diego Handicap (gr. II), the major prep for the Pacific Classic. Heading the quartet is winner Sun Boat, who before his Del Mar outing on the Polytrack was second to Buzzards Bay in Hollywood Park’s Californian (gr. II) in his first stakes try. The others from the San Diego include: second-place finisher Awesome Gem, third-place Salty Humor and sixth-place Arson Squad.
A trio of 3-year-olds features Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) and Swaps Stakes (gr. II) winner Tiago; Albertus Maximus, second in both the Affirmed Handicap (gr. III) at Hollywood Park and the Swaps; and Time Squared, from the barn of trainer Patrick Biancone.
Rounding out the field are Hello Sunday, winner of an optional claiming/allowance event at Del Mar July 19, and Student Council, recently purchased from W.S. Farish by Ro Parra’s Millennium Farms and assigned to Vladimir Cerin in Southern California. Student Council, a 5-year-old son of Kingmambo, arrived on the grounds Aug. 14 and got acquainted with the track the next morning.
The last horse to put in his final work is Arson Squad, who is scheduled for a 3-furlong blowout early the morning of Aug. 16 for trainer Bruce Headley.
The jockey assignments are: A.P. Xcellent, Victor Espinoza; Albertus Maximus, Joe Talamo; Arson Squad, Alex Solis; Awesome Gem, David Flores; Big Booster, Garrett Gomez; Hello Sunday, Brice Blanc; Lava Man, Corey Nakatani; Porfido, Joel Rosario; Salty Humor, Jon Court; Student Council, Richard Migliore; Sun Boat, Michael Baze; Tiago, Mike Smith; and Time Squared, Julien Leparoux.
Jockeys Nakatani, Solis, Flores, Smith and Gomez have won the Pacific Classic, Gomez three times -- in 2000 and 2001 with Skimming and 2005 with Borrego. Solis scored the biggest upset in Pacific Classic history by defeating Cigar aboard Dare And Go (39-1) in 1996. Nakatani won last year aboard Lava Man, while Flores and Smith rode 3-year-olds to victory – General Challenge in 1999 and Came Home.
Trainers Mike Mitchell and Robert Frankel will be saddling two runners in the Pacific Classic. Mitchell will be seeking his first victory as he sends out Sun Boat and Big Booster, while Frankel’s pair of Porfido and Hello Sunday could bring him his seventh Pacific Classic winner. The Hall of Famer has saddled winners Missionary Ridge (1992), Bertrando (1993), Tinners Way twice (1994-95) and Skimming twice.
As many as 14 horses had been considered for the race, but Brazilian-bred Molengao was not entered by trainer Paolo Lobo, who said he wasn’t happy with how the 6-year-old son of Royal Academy had been training.$1 Million Pacific Classic (gr. I, Race 8, 4:30 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/4 Miles (All Weather)