by J. Keeler Johnson Saturday’s renewal of the $1 million Pacific Classic (G1) at Del Mar might not be the strongest in recent memory, but this 1 1/4-mile “Win & You’re In” qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) is still shaping up to be a great betting race. I’m excited to play the Pacific Classic in part because I’m planning to oppose morning-line favorites Seeking the Soul (#5) (3-1) and Pavel (#3) (7-2), at least for win purposes. Yes, they’re classy Grade 1 winners, but Seeking the Soul has yet to reproduce his best form away from Churchill Downs, and Pavel is an infrequent winner (3-for-17 lifetime) whom I’m hesitant to trust at a short price. The slow and tiring nature of the Del Mar main track figures to place stamina at a premium, which is why I find Mongoliam Groom (#9) (20-1) appealing. His relentless, grinding style isn’t flashy, but it nearly carried him to victory in the 1 1/16-mile San Diego Handicap (G2) at Del Mar last month, when he rallied boldly to fall a length short of catching the highly regarded Catalina Cruiser. For his effort, Mongolian Groom received a career-best 103 BRIS Speed rating (plus an eye-catching 109 Late Pace rating), and I suspect he’ll be even more dangerous while negotiating a longer distance in the Pacific Classic. Back in the spring, he finished game a third in the 1 1/4-mile Santa Anita Handicap (G1) behind Gift Box and McKinzie, earning a 101 BRIS Speed rating while finishing 1 3/4 lengths ahead of the future Cougar II Handicap (G3) winner Campaign (#8) (6-1). So let’s ponder this – Mongolian Groom has run well against Catalina Cruiser and McKinzie, two horses who would be favored to win the Pacific Classic. He’s run well over the tricky track at Del Mar. And yet he’s 20-1 on the morning line? At that price, I view Mongolian Groom as a significant overlay in the wagering, so a simple win bet would be a logical approach. But since I believe the morning-line favorites are vulnerable, I’ll instead key Mongolian Groom with “ALL” in the exacta. If Mongolian Groom cracks the top two and we catch another longshot for first or second place, the payoff could be huge. WAGERS $1 exacta: 9 with ALL ($9) $2 exacta: ALL with 9 ($18) Good luck! PHOTO: Mongolian Groom (far outside, red cap) finished second to Catalina Cruiser in the San Diego Handicap (G2) on Saturday, July 20, 2019, at Del Mar © BENOIT PHOTO