Shipped to Southern California by trainer Dale Romans after a pair of lackluster efforts on the East Coast, Dullahan collared Game On Dude in deep stretch to take the $1 million TVG Pacific Classic (gr. I) in track-record time at Del Mar Aug. 26 (VIDEO).
With Joel Rosario aboard, Dullahan defeated Game on Dude by a half-length while clocked in 1:59.54 for the 1 1/4-mile distance on Polytrack. That eclipsed the track mark of 2:00.61 established in the Pacific Classic last year by champion Acclamation, who did not participate in this year's race because of a minor injury.
"It worked out perfect," said Rosario, who was based in Southern California for several years but moved to New York earlier this season. "He's a one-paced horse. He just goes and goes. When we went for home and I saw (Game On Dude) in front of me, I knew I had a big chance.
"My horse was coming and coming. He doesn't stop. He's a nice horse; a very nice horse."
Dullahan, third-place finisher in this year's Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), becomes the fourth 3-year-old to win the Pacific Classic in the 22-year history of the race, and the first since Came Home in 2002. He is now 3-for-3 on Polytrack in his career, all in grade I events, including earlier wins in the Breeders' Futurity as a 2-year-old and the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes in April, both at Keeneland.
Owned by Donegal Racing, Dullahan is a son of Even the Score out of the Smart Strike mare Mining My Own. Bred in Kentucky by Phil and Judy Needham and Bena Halecky, the chestnut colt was a $250,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase in 2010.
The wins locks up a place in the starting gate in the Breeders' Cup Classic for Dullahan as part of the Breeders' Cup Challenge series. The $150,000 entry fee and $10,000 in shipping costs will be paid if the colt runs.
Jerry Crawford, who oversees the Donegal Racing partnership that owns Dullahan, said they would wait two weeks and then decide on the colt's next start.
"People are going to insist that this is a synthetic horse because he has won three grade Is on synthetic," Crawford said. "But there's no one else in the country that has won three grade Is on any surface and placed in graded stakes on the turf and finished third in the Kentucky Derby.
"I would respectfully submit that the question with Dullahan is not what surface can he run on, but what surface can't he run on?"
Dullahan was racing in fifth on the far turn and closing while about four paths wide after 6-5 favorite Game On Dude had taken charge over Suggestive Boy. Game On Dude still led at the sixteenth pole by about a length but could not contain Dullahan, who challenged under strong right-handed urging from Rosario to get up in the final strides.
Richard's Kid, who encountered traffic issues on the final turn, got through along the inside and finished well to be third in the field of 10, 3 1/4 lengths behind the victorious Dullahan.
Most of the pre-race attention was focused on the sale of two-time Pacific Classic winner Richard's Kid a week before the race by Zabeel Racing International to a group headed by Paul Boghossian's Triple B Farms. Trainer Bob Baffert, who trained Richard's Kid for Zabeel, told the media he felt he "had his pocket picked" by the surprise move. Baffert was determined to move on with race favorite Game On Dude and his second entrant, Jaycito.
But the dual grade I winner Game On Dude, who was fourth behind Acclamation in last year's Pacific Classic, is a better horse on dirt, Baffert has repeatedly acknowledged. And that may have been the difference in this year's race as Dullahan proved to be the better Polytrack horse.
Jockey Chantal Sutherland also dropped Game on Dude's left rein in deep stretch while transferring her whip from her right hand, replays showed. She said after the race that the mistake did not cost Game On Dude the race.
"I was switching my stick to the left hand, I pushed my rein loose," she said. "It was dangling at the end; it looked awful sloppy. I haven't done something like that in 13 years. But I don't think it affected anything. He was still doing what he could do. Just unfortunate."
Emotions boiled over at the Pacific Classic draw last Wednesday night, when angry words were exchanged between Baffert's wife, Jill, and Mark Verge, one of the new owners of Richard's Kid and the chief executive officer of Santa Anita.
But all that was pushed aside with Dullahan's victory at odds of 5-1. Dullahan paid $12.60, $5.20, and $3.40 while taking on older horses for the first time. Game On Dude returned $3.20 and $2.40, while Richard's Kid paid $3 to show.
"Game On Dude ran a good race, the other horse just got us," Baffert said. "Dullahan is a nice horse and he thrives on synthetics."
Dullahan was coming off a fifth-place finish in the Haskell Invitational (gr. I) July 29 at Monmouth Park, finishing 13 1/2 lengths behind the Baffert-trained Paynter. The colt ran seventh in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) prior to that as the 5-2 favorite following his big effort in the Kentucky Derby.
Game On Dude was a bit slow to begin from post 9 as 70-1 shot Riveting Reason, to his outside, took the early lead and angled over to the inside as the field made its way through the stretch for the first time. Also prominent early on were Akkadian, the Argenita-bred Suggestive Boy, and San Diego Handicap (gr. II) winner Rail Trip.
Riveting Reason led the first half-mile while posting quick splits for the distance of :23.61 and :46.98. Game On Dude poked his head in front after six furlongs were completed in a sprightly 1:11.08.
Rosario was content to allow Dullahan to rate near the rear of the pack as the race unfolded.
Game On Dude, who won the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) in his most recent race, led Suggestive Boy by about 1 1/2 lengths while reaching the quarter pole in 1:35.25. He appeared to have plenty left in the stretch run after he opened up by a couple of lengths.
"When they hit the quarter pole today he was closer than usual to the front, and he's the only horse I've ever owned that has a three-eighths of a mile move," Crawford said. "When I saw that Game On Dude was getting the rail trip and we were going at least four-wide, I thought 'Lord, please don't let us lose by a neck.'
"But I knew Joel had a tremendous amount of horse, just from the action of the horse when they turned for home. I thought he would get there, and boy did he."
Dullahan was under a drive from Rosario on the outside of horses as he commenced his bid rounding the final bend. There was nothing in his way as he charged through the lane to win impressively over Game On Dude, whose finish was somewhat reminiscent of his runner-up finish to Drosselmeyer in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic.
Rail Trip finished fourth, followed by Suggestive Boy, the champion Chilean filly Amani, Jaycito, Where's Sterling, Akkadian, and Riveting Reason.
The winner joined Best Pal in 1991, General Challenge in 1999, and Came Home as 3-year-old winners of the Pacific Classic. He also became the third to win the race without racing in his prior start at either Del Mar or Hollywood Park. Bertrando in 1993, whose prior start was at Monmouth, and Student Council in 2007 after racing at Churchill Downs were the others.
Dullahan's most lucrative triumph, worth $600,000, boosted his bankroll to $1,702,091. Winless in six tries on dirt, all three of his victories from 12 starts in his career have come on Polytrack. He also has two seconds and three thirds overall.
More than 60 people associated with Donegal Racing were on hand on a sunny, 75-degree day along the Pacific Ocean.
"Some of them had never found their way out here from Iowa before," Crawford said.