Updated on 08/29/2012 2:26PM

Del Mar: Dullahan runs down Game On Dude in deep stretch of Pacific Classic

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Benoit & Associates
The 3-year-old Dullahan, ridden by Joel Rosario, sets a track record for 1 1/4 miles winning the Pacific Classic.

DEL MAR, Calif. – Just when it looked like this year’s crop of 3-year-olds was going to slink quietly into the background, Dullahan struck a blow for the division on Sunday by defeating a top group of older horses in the Grade 1, $1 million Pacific Classic before a crowd of 34,482 at Del Mar.

Dullahan was visiting California for the first time, and was taking on the likes of Game On Dude, Richard’s Kid, Rail Trip, and Suggestive Boy on their home court, but he responded to a return to a synthetic surface, and came charging down the lane to defeat favored Game On Dude by a half-length.

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How much does Dullahan like Polytrack? The Pacific Classic win was his third lifetime victory, the previous two also coming on Polytrack, at Keeneland. Those also were in Grade 1 races -- the Breeders’ Futurity last year, and this year’s Blue Grass Stakes. Dullahan loved Del Mar’s surface, too. He set a track record for 1 1/4 miles of 1:59.45, a full second faster than the record of 2:00.61 set by Acclamation in last year’s race. The track was producing times far faster than par all day Sunday.

Dullahan, the third choice in the field of 10, paid $12.60 for $2 to win.

Along with a first-place check of $600,000, the victory gave Dullahan a fees-paid berth into the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 3 at Santa Anita. But that race is on natural dirt, a surface over which Dullahan is winless in six starts. He is 3 for 3 on synthetics, and 3 for 12 overall.

Game On Dude, the 6-5 favorite, and Richard’s Kid, who finished another 2 3/4 lengths behind Game On Dude in third as the 9-2 second choice, both did not have unblemished trips. Chantal Sutherland, riding Game On Dude, lost her left rein with about a sixteenth of a mile to go. Richard’s Kid, under Victor Espinoza, got stopped behind the tiring Riveting Reason on the far turn. Both Sutherland and Espinoza maintained that the incidents did not cost them the victory.

Rail Trip finished fourth and was followed, in order, by Suggestive Boy, Amani, Jaycito, Where’s Sterling, Akkadian, and Riveting Reason.

Joel Rosario, who first achieved national recognition in California before relocating to New York, rode Dullahan to the win for trainer Dale Romans, who added the Pacific Classic to a glittering 2012 resume that also includes the Blue Grass, the Arlington Million with Little Mike, and Met Mile with Shackleford.

“That was very exciting,” Romans said when reached by telephone at his summer home in Saratoga. “This ranks right up there with the best, like Shack’s Met Mile, and winning the Arlington Million.”

The Donegal Racing partnership, headed by Jerry Crawford, owns Dullahan. Crawford, who works in politics in Iowa, started campaigning for Dullahan for an Eclipse Award.

“Coming out here and beating Game On Dude and Richard’s Kid stamps him as the 3-year-old horse of the year,” Crawford said, saying Dullahan has as many Grade 1 wins as I’ll Have Another, who won three Grade 1 races this year. Dullahan has two this year, and one last year.

I’ll Have Another has been retired, along with other top 3-year-olds from this year such as Bodemeister, Union Rags, and Hansen.

Dullahan shipped in a week before the Pacific Classic and had trained sharply all week under Tammy Fox, Romans’s partner, but this was one of the deepest, strongest fields of older horses ever assembled for the Pacific Classic. By winning, though, Dullahan joined Came Home, General Challenge, and Best Pal as 3-year-olds to win the race. He carried 118 pounds, six fewer than Game On Dude under the weight-for-age conditions of the race.

Dullahan was ninth in the 10-horse field after a half-mile. Rosario took him outside horses on the final turn, and he finished resolutely to get the win.

“He doesn’t stop,” Rosario said. “He’s a nice horse, a very nice horse.”

Game On Dude broke a tad slowly, and was fourth going into the first turn while three paths wide. He got aggressive turning up the backside and engaged the hopeless 76-1 shot Riveting Reason, then put that horse away after six furlongs in 1:11.08. But after opening a clear lead at midstretch, Game On Dude could not deny Dullahan, and Sutherland lost her left rein late.

“When I went for my left-handed stick, my rein went with it,” Sutherland said. “It was a little sloppy to lose my left line. My right line was still tight.”

Richard’s Kid was near the back of the pack with Dullahan for the first half of the race. But Espinoza tried to save ground on the far turn, and had to wait for clearance when Riveting Reason stopped in his face.

“It didn’t bother me that much, maybe for about one or two strides,” Espinoza said. “I had to wait a couple of jumps.”

Romans said Dullahan would return to Churchill Downs this week, and plans for him would be determined later.

Crawford said because of Dullahan’s aptitude on synthetic surfaces, a long-range goal is next year’s Dubai World Cup.