Del Mar’s Pacific Classic returns to $1 million purse

None Above the Law, with Flavien Prat aboard, wins the $175,000 Real Good Deal Stakes on Friday.
None Above the Law, with Flavien Prat aboard, wins the $175,000 Real Good Deal Stakes on Friday.

Word travels fast in thoroughbred circles.

Within minutes of Del Mar’s announcement Friday, July 30, that the Aug. 21 TVG Pacific Classic was returning to its original $1 million purse, messages and emails began arriving in the track’s racing office.

“We’re getting a lot of calls, inquiries today from trainers about the Pacific Classic,” said Josh Rubinstein, Del Mar president and chief operating officer. “Certainly, that was part of the motivation for boosting the Pacific Classic purse back to traditional $1 million.

“Even before that, however, some notable trainers from outside the state were thinking about the Pacific Classic. But we immediately saw more interest today.”

For several reasons in addition to the $250,000 purse boost.

Not only is has the Grade I Pacific Classic been the premier event of Del Mar’s summer meeting since 1991, it will be run at the same distance on the same track as the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 7.

“In 2017, we saw the same thing with the Pacific Classic, trainers shipping horses here for the Pacific Classic to introduce them to the Breeders’ Cup track,” said Rubinstein.

Plus, there’s the matter of the $1 million. Currently, the Pacific Classic is the only West Coast race for older horses carrying a $1 million purse.

Of course, it wasn’t that way last season during the pandemic.

With no fans being allowed in the stands, the value of the Pacific Classic was halved to $500,000. That led to Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella moving United from the Pacific Classic (which was won by Maximum Security) to the Del Mar Handicap.

When Del Mar originally announced its 2021 purse schedule, the Pacific Classic carried a purse of $750,000.

Then came Friday’s announcement that the Pacific Classic was going back to $1 million and the Sept. 4 Grade II Del Mar Derby — the finale of Del Mar’s turf series for 3-year-olds — has had its purse increased to $250,000.

However, the added $250,000 to the Pacific Classic purse will not alter the plans for two of the more famous horses currently training at Del Mar for later races elsewhere.

Neither disputed Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit or the Doug O’Neill trained Hot Rod Charlie will be ready in time for the Aug. 21 Pacific Classic. Hot Rot Charlie finished third in the Kentucky Derby, third in the Belmont Stakes and was first across the line in the recent Haskell Stakes only to be disqualified.

But among the Pacific Classic candidates mentioned Friday are the Mandella-trained Royal Ship and Tizamagician (winner of the Cougar II Stakes at Del Mar on July 18) and the Bob Baffert-trained Magic On Top.

Mandella said United, who on July 24 won a second straight Eddie Read Stakes, is still headed for the Del Mar Handicap … although he hedged just a bit.

“United’s not quite having the year he had last year,” said Mandella. “But that doesn’t mean I can’t change my mind.”

The Law won

Jockey Flavien Prat and trainer Peter Miller completed three-win days Friday when None Above the Law stunned 1-5 favorite The Chosen Vron to win the featured, 7-furlong, $175,000 Real Good Stakes for Cal-bred or sired 3-year-olds on the main track.

Although None Above the Law stumbled out of the gate, he finished 5¼ lengths ahead of The Chosen Vron, who broke in and was last in the field of seven for nearly half the race.

None Above the Law paid $22 to win.

“The Chosen Vron towered over this field, but he didn’t fire today,” said Miller. “And it’s hard to win from behind on this track.”

“We were in a good spot and he was comfortable,” said Prat.

Both Prat (16 wins in the jockey race) and Miller (eight training wins) widened their meeting leads.

Smith to be honored

The media center at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club will be named the Dan Smith Press Box Saturday in honor of the retired track publicist.

Now 83, Smith spent 56 years at Del Mar starting in 1964 through his retirement in 2020.

He was Del Mar’s turf publicist from 1975 through his retirement and earlier held the same position at Santa Anita. Smith also served as Del Mar’s director of marketing.

Among Smith’s innovative programs at Del Mar were the 4 p.m. Friday starts, the post-racing jazz series and the annual Opening Day “hats contest.” He was also in on the planning and construction of Del Mar’s new grandstand from 1991-93 and named Del Mar’s showcase race — the Pacific Classic.

Smith also provided in-depth, behind-the-scenes support for Dick Enberg when the Hall of Fame announcer called the first six Breeders’ Cups on NBC. Smith also worked behind the scenes on Kentucky Derbys and Triple Crown races.

Bill Center is a freelance writer.