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Homeracing

California Chrome Certain Pacific Classic Favorite Following Beholder Loss

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TwinSpires Staff

August 1st, 2016

by SCOTT SHAPIRO

After a pair of heart stopping battles to the wire each of the last two weeks at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, the outlook for the meet’s premier event—the $1-million Grade 1 Pacific Classic on August 20—is a bit murky.

The Grade 2 San Diego Handicap saw a thrilling stretch drive between Horse of the Year California Chrome and multiple Grade 1 winner Dortmund with the 2014 Kentucky Derby winner outlasting the 2015 Kentucky Derby third-place finisher to the wire in a gutsy half-length victory.

Not to be outdone, three-time champion Beholder and 2015 three-year-old champion filly Stellar Wind hooked up on the far turn with the four-year-old daughter of Curlin getting the best of the ten-time Grade 1 winner in the final strides of the Grade 1 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes.

Following California Chrome’s win, the Hirsch was thought to be the final step for Beholder to prepare to defend her Pacific Classic title against this year’s Dubai World Cup winner, but her loss might have thwarted that plan.

One thing Beholder’s loss did make clear, however, is that California Chrome will be the favorite if he starts. The son of Lucky Pulpit has rattled off four consecutive wins to start his five-year-old campaign, and it stands to reason that if he remains undefeated in 2016 he will capture his second Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year (along with champion older male honors).

Other than Chrome, the participants in the Pacific Classic are yet to be determined. Dortmund and Hard Aces are probable while Santa Anita Handicap and Gold Cup winner Melatonin and Beholder are only possible. Melatonin is the only two-time Grade 1 winner among older males.

Beholder was almost certain to run in the one million dollar event if all went perfectly in the Clement L. Hirsch, but the tough race and narrow defeat have made things a bit less clear.

When asked if the Pacific Classic was still the plan for the daughter of Henny Hughes, Hall of Fame conditioner Richard Mandella said, “It’s going to make me think about the Classic. The reason I said last year we were going to run in the Classic was because everything went perfectly. It didn’t go perfectly this year. I’m not saying no, but now it’s something I’m going to have to think about and see how she is. “

Many had hopes that the 2016 rendition of the Pacific Classic would stack up there with some of the all-time great editions, but with Beholder now questionable that is up in the air.

Southern California racing fans have been fortunate to see several stellar Classics since the inaugural running in 1991 when three-year-old Best Pal got the best of a field that included eventual Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up Twilight Agenda, 1990 Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Unbridled, and 3-2-favorite Farma Way.

Many point to the 1996 Pacific Classic as the most memorable with more than 44,000 on hand to see Cigar put his 16-race win streak on the line, but alas, 39-to-1 longshot Dare and Go vanquished the Horse of the Year.

Equally unforgettable to long time Southern California horseplayers was last year’s event. The powerful move on the far turn from Beholder en route to an effortless 8 ¼-length score against males is something that those in attendance will not soon forget.

There is still quite a bit of time before August 20th. We will cross our fingers and hope that all runners remain in good health and all connections decide to give it a go. If they do it will certainly be one to remember. Time will tell.

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