Post positions were drawn the night of Aug. 20, and one thing is apparent: this is not an easy field to sort out. Among the other leading contenders are Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) winner Mast Track, who scored in front-running style by 2 1/4 lengths; multiple grade II winner Surf Cat; 2007 Pacific Classic runner-up Awesome Gem; and Well Armed, who led all the way in capturing the San Diego Handicap (gr. II) at Del Mar last month.
Peter Vegso's Go Between breaks from post 6 for trainer Bill Mott and will be ridden by Garrett Gomez. Though the 5-year-old son of Point Given hasn't run since June 28, when he couldn't catch Mast Track in the Hollywood Gold Cup, he earned the favorite's nod from the line-maker with his strong form since being switched from the turf to synthetic surfaces this year.
Since January, he has won the Sunshine Millions Classic and ran second in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) at the Arcadia track and also finished second in the Gold Cup and the Ben Ali (gr. III) over Keeneland's Polytrack, where he won the Fayette Stakes (gr. III) last fall.
The fact Mast Track also faces quite a bit more pace pressure from Delosvientos, Barcola, and Well Armed than he did in the Gold Cup should also benefit Go Between's rating style.
Assistant Trainer Kenny McCarthy credited Mott's trademark patience with his horses for Go Between's improvement. "He knew he was good," McCarthy said. "He sent him to me in Kentucky because he thought he might do well on the Midwest circuit and could build his confidence."
McCarthy expects Go Between to be in his normal spot behind the first flight of horses in the 1 1/4-mile Pacific Classic. "We're not going to change his running style at all," McCarthy said. "And Garrett (Gomez) knows him very well."
The horse went through the Del Mar paddock the morning of Aug. 21 on his way to galloping 1 1/4 miles.
Student Council was scorned by many after his half-length triumph over Awesome Gem at odds of 23-1 a year ago in a time of 2:07.29. But he has since proven himself a legitimate grade I performer.
Now trained by Steve Asmussen for Ro Parra's Millennium Farms, the 6-year-old Kingmambo horse was disappointing in the Big 'Cap, finishing sixth, but bounced back 2 1/2 months later to win the Pimlico Special (gr. I). He ran third in the Gold Cup after that and most recently finished a late-running second in Whitney Handicap (gr. I) at Saratoga while never threatening the runaway winner Commentator.
Part of Vladimir Cerin's barn last summer, Student Council will try to become the third horse to score back-to-back wins in the Pacific Classic. Tinner's Way (1994-95) and Skimming (2000-01) are the others. The bay, making his 30th lifetime start (with eight victories) breaks from post 10 with Shaun Bridgmohan flying cross-country to take the mount.
Trainer Bobby Frankel, a record six-time winner of the Pacific Classic, will try to do it again with Gold Cup winner Mast Track. Frankel also owns and bred the 4-year-old Mizzen Mast colt, who is out of the French mare Nawal. Mast Track caught a flyer in his synthetic track stakes debut, clearing off by 2 1/2 lengths in the opening half-mile and was seriously challenged thereafter while completing the 10 furlongs in 2:01.37. In 10 lifetime starts, Mast Track has run mostly on turf, where he has registered three of his five victories.
A razor-sharp Mast Track drilled six furlongs Aug. 17 in a bullet 1:11 2/5.
WinStar Farm's Well Armed signaled his fondness for the Del Mar Polytrack with a gate-to-wire triumph by 1 1/4 lengths in the 1 1/8-mile San Diego, his first try over the surface. The Eoin Harty trainee, a 5-year-old son of Tiznow , won the San Antonio Handicap (gr. II) at Santa Anita prior to a third-place finish behind Curlin in the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) this spring.
Awesome Gem, training well at the seaside for conditioner Craig Dollase, looks to improve on his runner-up finish in the Pacific Classic last year, but drew the rail. The 5-year-old Awesome Again gelding has won just twice in 12 starts over the past two years, but can almost always be counted on for a big effort.
Distance will be question for the hard-trying Surf Cat, who has only started once at 10 furlongs and was out of the money. Bruce Headley's 6-year-old most recently ran second in the 1 1/16-mile Mervyn LeRoy Handicap (gr. II) at Hollywood April 26.
Barcola, third in the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) at Churchill Downs in June after setting the pace, brings more speed to the lineup, but distance, too, figures to be a question mark for the Mark Hennig-trained son of Old Trieste.
Delosvientos, winner of three in a row for trainer Giuseppe Iadisernia, dominated the 12-furlong Brooklyn at Belmont Park June 6, overcoming an early stumble to open up a five-length lead in the stretch and coasted home by two lengths. The late starting 5-year-old Siphon gelding has shown good speed while winning six of his 11 starts over the past two years.
Zappa earned a slot in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Marathon Oct. 25 at Santa Anita Park with his 6 1/4-length win in the Cougar II Handicap at 1 1/2 miles at Del Mar July 30. McCann's Mojave, an earner of more than $1.5 million in his career with 12 victories in 35 starts, and Mastacolli Mort, a late-charging third in the San Diego, complete the field.
$1 Million Pacific Classic (gr. I, Race 10, 6:30 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/4 Miles (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Jockey ML Odds
1. Awesome Gem (KY), Tyler Baze, 5/1
2. Mostacolli Mort (KY), Victor Espinoza, 12/1
3. Zappa (KY), Alan Garcia, 15/1
4. Surf Cat (KY), David R. Flores, 6/1
5. Barcola (KY), Corey S. Nakatani, 20/1
6. Go Between (FL), Garrett K. Gomez, 3/1
7. Well Armed (KY), Aaron T. Gryder, 10/1
8. Mast Track (KY), Rafael Bejarano, 6/1
9. Delosvientos (KY), Joel Rosario, 30/1
10. Student Council (KY), Shaun Bridgmohan, 7/2
11. McCann's Mojave (CA), Julio A. Garcia, 15/1
Each assigned 124 pounds.