They've come from the East in numbers unprecedented in TVG Pacific Classic history. Four horses in a field of 10, with highly-regarded connections, have shipped in for the $1 million, 1 ¼-mile signature event of the Del Mar summer meeting.
The group is sufficiently impressive to track oddsmaker Russ Hudak that he made Seeking the Soul, the 3-1 favorite, Quip the 9-2 third choice, Tenfold and War Story a shared No. 5 at 8-1 on his morning line.
While the sun, the nearby beaches, the ambiance and amenities of Del Mar are nice, they've all come seeking a share – preferably the winner's $600,000 – of the purse, and the “Win and You're In” qualification for the $6 million Breeders' Cup Classic that comes with victory.
And, let's be candid, they've come to test a West Coast-based handicap division that hasn't produced a horse that would strike fear in the hearts of those watching from afar.
“It makes sense,” Quip's trainer Rodolphe Brisset said Friday morning of the Eastern influx. “The division around here was kind of light and got lighter with McKinzie going back to the Whitney and then with Catalina Cruiser staying at one turn. It's easy to ship now anyway, so you just have to do it.”
Quip, a 4-year-old Distorted Humor colt with more than $1 million in career earnings, has been freshened since a neck loss to Seeking the Soul in the 1 1/8-mile Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs on June 15. Quip had a narrow lead into the stretch only to see Seeking the Soul make up a length and a half to claim the victory and a “Win and You're In” place in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Asked if he was surprised to see Seeking the Soul, trained by Dallas Stewart, travel for the Classic, Brisset shook his head. “I'm not surprised at all,” he said, “I think he's doing the best thing for his horse.”
The timing of the Pacific Classic, eight weeks after the Foster – in which Tenfold also ran – and 10 weeks out from the Breeders' Cup was cited as a factor by connections for all four of the horses.
“The spacing is good,” said Scott Blasi, chief assistant to Tenfold trainer Steve Asmussen. Tenfold, a 4-year-old son of Curlin, went over $900,000 in earnings with a win in the 1 ¼-mile Pimlico Special on May 17, then bombed in the Stephen Foster.
“We might have brought him back a little too soon after the Pimlico Special,” Blasi said. “And we were looking for a mile-and-a quarter (race), which is a good distance for him.”
Seeking the Soul has more than $3.3 million in career earnings after topping the $1 million mark in 2018 and once again this year in four starts. Only one of the seven victories for the 4-year-old Charles Fipke homebred has been achieved outside Kentucky and that was in an allowance at Saratoga more than two years ago.
The spot on the calendar, and a desire for a change of scenery for Seeking the Soul, are factors in the decision to come West, Stewart said.
“He's ready, so we need to run him,” Stewart said. “Last summer I took him to Saratoga and he ran terrible,” Stewart said. “I don't know why, maybe he just didn't like the track. Hopefully he'll like the track here and he'll run a good race.”
War Story will be making his third start at Del Mar in a 35-race career. The first was in the 2016 Pacific Classic when the first three finishers were California Chrome, Beholder and Dortmund. The second was in the 2017 Breeders' Cup Classic when the top three were Gun Runner, Collected and West Coast.
The latter experience, when War Story was fourth, beaten only four lengths at odds of 56-1, prompted trainer Jorge Navarro and owner Glenn Ellis to follow up a victory in the Monmouth Cup on July 20 with the TVG Pacific Classic venture.
“He likes this track,” Navarro said. “We'll let him run his race and see what happens.”
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