Shared Belief versus Game On Dude. That’s the main storyline behind Sunday’s Grade 1, $1 million Pacific Classic, the signature event of the Del Mar summer meeting.
It’s a match-up between a young, rising star and the seasoned veteran who is being forced to prove that he still belongs at the highest level.
Shared Belief missed the Triple Crown season due to an injury, but the unbeaten two-year-old champion came back to the races with a gusto, recording an impressive allowance victory at Golden Gate Fields before a scintillating display of superiority in the July 5 Los Alamitos Derby. Mike Smith has opted to ride the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained gelding over Game On Dude.
An earner of more than $6.4 million, Game On Dude remains very dangerous in a title defense. The seven-year-old gelding posted a superb victory in the Santa Anita H. earlier this season and will be seeking a measure of redemption following a subpar fourth in the June 28 Gold Cup at Santa Anita. Martin Garcia, who substituted for last year’s 8 1/2-length romp in the Pacific Classic, regains the mount for Bob Baffert.
Eleven horses were entered for the 1 1/4-mile event on Polytrack, but any result that doesn’t feature either Shared Belief or Game On Dude in the winner’s circle will be considered an upset.
Shared Belief opened his racing career with a seven-length romp on Golden Gate’s Tapeta last October. He was sold and transferred to Hollendorfer afterward and promptly rewarded his new connections with a 7 3/4-length thrashing in the Grade 3 Hollywood Prevue in mid-November. He concluded his juvenile campaign with another dominant performance, rolling to a 5 3/4-length score in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity on December 14, and was named champion at the Eclipse Award ceremonies a month later.
Pegged as the winter-book Kentucky Derby favorite, Shared Belief sustained a foot injury training at Santa Anita in January and was sidelined for more than six months before returning in late May. He showed his versatility capturing the Los Alamitos Derby on dirt in his second start back, but the son of Candy Ride should appreciate the switch to Polytrack given that he captured his first four outings on synthetic tracks.
Shared Belief registered a career-best 105 BRIS Speed rating last time and can assert himself as a serious contender for both Horse of the Year and champion three-year-old male with a victory over elders Sunday. He’s been installed as the 5-2 favorite on the morning line and will break from the far outside post.
Game On Dude capped a six-race winning streak in last year’s Pacific Classic, making amends for a close second in the 2012 edition, but he won’t bring the same credentials into this year’s running. He defeated a top-class field in the aforementioned Big ‘Cap in March, but the son of Awesome Again has dropped his other three starts this year, including a pair of unplaced finishes.
Baffert believes Game On Dude still has something to offer — the classy gelding shows a nice series of six works on Del Mar’s Polytrack — and the front-runner’s speed makes him extremely dangerous, especially if Game On Dude can get away with an uncontested advantage during the early stages. Listed as the 3-1 second choice on the morning line, he breaks from post No. 5.
Majestic Harbor, a 6 1/4-length upset winner of the Gold Cup, is pegged as the 9-2 third favorite. The well-traveled son of Rockport Harbor was a non-descript performer last year for Paul McGee, recording unplaced finishes in his lone stakes attempts, the New Orleans H. and Texas Mile, before being transferred back to Sean McCarthy this season. He earned his first stakes victory in the Tokyo City in late March, scoring by three lengths at 1 1/2 miles, and followed with a close third in the May 31 Californian.
The six-year-old romped at 14-1 last time and will keep Tyler Baze in the saddle.
Irish Surf, who earned his first stakes success with an 8 1/2-length thrashing in the July 25 Cougar II at Del Mar, comes next on the morning line at 8-1 along with multiple Grade 2 hero Clubhouse Ride. The front-running Irish Surf is cross-entered to Saturday’s Del Mar H. on turf and Elvis Trujillo will be up if he runs in the Pacific Classic. Clubhouse Ride exits a second in the Gold Cup and retains the services of Joe Talamo.
Toast of New York, a convincing winner of this year’s U.A.E. Derby over a synthetic track, will make his second start stateside for trainer Jamie Osbourne following a sixth in the deep Belmont Derby on turf. Victor Espinoza picks up the assignment.
Rounding out the field are Grade 2 winner Frac Daddy, fourth as the favorite in the July 26 San Diego; San Diego third-placer You Know I Know, who also finished third in last year’s Pacific Classic; Grade 2 victor Imperative; Mystery Train, a multiple Group 1 winner from Argentina who will be making his U.S. debut; and Cougar third-placer Ice Cream Truck, who is cross-entered to the Del Mar H.