The infinite patience of trainer Beau Greely and jockey Garrett Gomez paid off Sunday when Borrego thundered down the center of the lane to capture the $1 million Pacific Classic (gr. I) before 30,741 at Del Mar. Borrego, whose only previous win in the past two years came in an optional allowance race at Santa Anita in February, defeated Perfect Drift by a half-length. Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) winner Lava Man, who nearly carried the field the entire distance, was a neck behind in third with Choctaw Nation a head farther back in fourth. The final time for the 1 1/4-mile event was 2:00 3/5. An exhilarated Gomez practically jumped out of the saddle crossing the wire, wildly waving his whip.
"I have so much confidence in this horse," he said. "I knew it was just a matter of time before he broke through and put the icing on the cake for us. I knew he had it and so did Beau. I'm just glad he finally showed it." The victory left Greely, who won his first stakes at Del Mar, somewhat dazed."I don't even know it happened yet," Greely said. "I've won some grade Is and I've had a few seconds, but this is something really special. And he's my first Kentucky Derby horse."Gomez let Borrego languish off the pace until the far turn when he put the 4-year-old son of El Prado to a drive with a six-wide move. Choctaw Nation, on Borrego's outside, also rallied while even wider than Borrego after trailing into the turn. The pair powered through the stretch run while advancing on the tiring Lava Man and Perfect Drift. Gomez said it was the presence of the fast-closing Choctaw Nation thay made the difference for Borrego.
"It made my horse run harder," he said. "My horse just dug in and tried harder." It was a big win for Gomez, who was out of racing for 21 months while battling substance abuse, returning in September. He won the riding title at Hollywood Park's spring-summer meeting and is fighting Victor Espinoza for the lead in the Del Mar jockey standings.
"Garrett, of course, has had his struggles, but he is a super jockey," Greely said. "I've always had faith in him and when I heard he was coming back, I called him and told him that I'd always have a spot for him. He has great hands and he sits quiet on a horse." Perfect Drift, ridden by Mark Guidry on the outside, went for an early run, turning in a strong effort to make it back-to-back runner-up finishes in the Pacific Classic."They went quick up front and he came home with a big run, but Borrego came home with a bigger run," Perfect Drift's trainer Murray Johnson said. "It would have been nice to win, but that's horse racing. We showed up and ran a big race."Gomez took the mount on Borrego for the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) in March. Borrego finished third that day, then ran third again in the Mervyn Leroy (gr. II) at Hollywood Park May 14. After a fourth-place showing in the Californian (gr. II) Borrego and Gomez teamed for a second-pace finish in the Hollywood Gold Cup, beaten 8 3/4 lengths by Lava Man.For Gomez, it was his third success in the Pacific Classic, having won back-to-back aboard Skimming in 2000-01.The Kentucky-bred Borrego won for the fourth time in 18 career starts while increasing his earnings to $1,452,090. He earned $600,000 for the main breeder Jon Kelly and his ownership partners, which include Greely.Always close and consistent, the 4-year-old colt had finished either second or third eight times in major races during his career.
"Maybe it was our turn," said Kelly, the majority owner. "I never expected to get here, so it's one big thrill." "I did think he would make a big run today," said Greely, who also is part breeder and owns 12% of Borrego in a partnership that includes 13 others. "He's been a really honest horse. We've always hoped he would develop."Borrego had finished second five times in some of the country's biggest races, including the 2004 Louisiana, Arkansas and Super derbies (all gr. II). He tried the Triple Crown trail, too, winding up 10th in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and seventh in the Preakness (gr. I) last year. Lava Man, the 3-2 favorite in the field of 11 who led into deep stretch after setting a hot pace for the 10-furlong distance under Patrick Valenzuela, was pulled up past the finish line and was vanned off. ``He just fell apart the last 20 yards,'' said Valenzuela, who jumped off after they crossed the wire. ``He lost his air. I was concerned about him. I didn't know if he was hurt or not, but I didn't want any weight on him if he was.'' Trainer Doug O'Neill said Lava Man walked on and off the van fine. ``Maybe he had a little heat exhaustion,'' he said. Lava Man fought Surf Cat through swift early splits of :22 3/5, :45 4/5 and 1:10 1/5 before Surf Cat began to tire and Super Frolic and Perfect Drift took up the challenge. The pressure cost Lava Man the race, Valezuela felt. ``I'm trying the best I can to slow it down and (Surf Cat's) on me,'' the jockey said. Lava Man became the 13th favorite in the 15 runnings of the Pacific Classic to lose.As Super Frolic dropped out of contention, Choctaw Nation and Borrego challenged. Choctaw Nation had every opportunity under Victor Espinoza in a blanket finish.Sent off at 11-1, Borrego paid $24.40, $8.80 and $4.20. Perfect Drift returned $5.40 and $3.20 while completing a $117 exacta. Lava Man's show was $2.60.After Choctaw Nation, the order of finish was: Super Frolic, Surf Cat, Oceanus, Congrats, Island Fashion, Ace Blue and Musique Toujours.Musique Toujours also was taken back to his barn in a van. Del Mar reported the $24,048,615 wagered on the 10-race program was a record, exceeding the previous record of $22,857,782 on Pacific Classic Day, Aug. 15, 1998.