I'm so torn as to who to root for in the Grade I Pacific Classic on Sunday. When I'm a fan of a certain horse, I'm die-hard. Unfortunately for me, there are two of my horses plus a bonus in the great field for the Classic this Sunday at Del Mar.
One of my scream-till-my-throat-is-sore favorites is Einstein, the hardy, versatile horse who has won over dirt, turf, and synthetics; most recently, he won the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap on synthetics and the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs. The 7-year-old horse has had the misfortune of either a bad trip or a distaste for the track in his last two times out; the Stephen Foster was a nightmare he should've and would've had in the bag had he not been a huge horse stuck in a pocket, while the Arlington Million proved once again that for whatever reason, Einstein doesn't like Arlington's turf (maybe it's the Euro-tall grass). So will we see Einstein return to form in California, where he turned back such competitors as Cowboy Cal, Matto Mondo, Champs Elysees, Monba, Magnum, and Court Vision? My guess... is yes.
Einstein has every reason to like Del Mar's main track; while he's a horse that does well on dirt, it's not where he's best. He's the rare breed that can tiptoe between the two classic surfaces, and since synthetics, let's face it, is smack-dab in the middle between dirt and turf as its own separate surface, it's where Einstein should excell. If you need convincing, watch how he pulls away in the stretch of the Big Cap, leaving the rest of the field the job to play "catch me if you can."
Speaking of horses who can walk the tightrope between different surfaces, the fringe horse coming into the Pacific Classic, Colonel John, has been made the morning-line favorite at 5-2. After a smashing 4-year-old debut on turf at a mile in the Wickerr, it seemed the 2008 Travers winner would have a future on the grass, but it seems he, too, is a horse that can dip from two pools and persevere. But is he the kind of horse that can boast such successes at this as Einstein? That, I'm not so convinced of. Take into consideration, for instance, that the Wickerr on July 31st was the first race Colonel John won since the Travers in August 2008. Between those two races, he ran 6th in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita, and then 4th in the Malibu the day after Christmas; granted, the Malibu was a 7 furlong race, which is pretty short for the son of Tiznow, but still, you've got to wonder if the 4-year-old Colonel John has moved on to, well, greener surfaces. He will have to run the race of his life to beat this field in the Pacific Classic...
...as will this year's Hollywood Gold Cup winner, Rail Trip. Now, this is a horse I've been following since his third race, when I caught wind of this then-unbeaten, late-blooming 4-year-old gelding in California. Never having finished worse than second in his lifetime career of 8 starts, it took Rail Trip two consecutive losses for him to "become a man." But is Rail Trip "man" enough to beat the amiable Einstein and the intimidating Colonel? As the older horse division is a little soft in California, it's hard to say if he's got what it takes to defeat proven class; but it's high time he is thrown in the mix. With the retirement of fan favorite Lava Man, and the quirky performances of Dubai World Cup winner, Well Armed, California needs a new star in its fading horizon. Along with top horses, Rail Trip will also be going up against the nation's top jockeys in Julien Leparoux on Einstein, Garrett Gomez on Colonel John, and Rafael Bejarano on Parading. A through-and-through underdog, Rail Trip is the best story going into the Pacific Classic. God knows, I was so ecstatic he won the Hollywood Gold Cup, I jumped straight off a bucket when the gutsy gelding crossed the wire in a new record time for the mile and 1/4 (I wish this was an exaggeration. No, it's just another weird equine photographer situation).
So when it's stretch time, and Einstein starts rolling after Rail Trip, who will be likely taking the lead in the final furlongs, and Colonel John begins a late-running rocket from behind, I will be screaming incoherently. But for whom will the bell toll? Why, that's why we run races.