08/23/2012 2:37PM

Del Mar: Dullahan taking first shot at older horses in Pacific Classic

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Bill Denver/Equi-Photo
Dullahan ran third in the Kentucky Derby, but followed with a seventh in the Belmont and a fifth in the Haskell.

DEL MAR, Calif. – The winner of the Kentucky Derby has been retired, so too the runner-up, but the third-place finisher, Dullahan, soldiers on, and on Sunday at Del Mar he will attempt to raise his game to a new level when he takes on elders for the first time in the Grade 1, $1 million Pacific Classic.

On Wednesday night, Dullahan landed post 5 in a field of 10 when post positions were drawn for the Pacific Classic. Joel Rosario will ride him for the first time. Dullahan is 6-1 on the morning line of Del Mar’s Russell Hudak, who made Game On Dude the 5-2 favorite.

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Dullahan was sent west last weekend by trainer Dale Romans, who is having the best year of his career, with victories in major races like the Metropolitan Mile with Shackleford and Arlington Million with Little Mike. Dullahan has been part of that wave of success in 2012, having captured the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland earlier this year.

Dullahan is winless in three starts since – after finishing third in the Derby, he was seventh in the Belmont Stakes and fifth in the Haskell – but Romans believes Dullahan can return to his best form at Del Mar, which has a Polytrack surface, similar to Keeneland’s.

“He likes those synthetics,” Romans said Thursday morning from Saratoga, where he will remain this weekend. His partner, Tammy Fox, is here with Dullahan. “We tried our best to make a good dirt horse out of him. He ran well at Churchill, but that dirt is a little different from the others. He didn’t do as well in the Belmont or the Haskell, but he deserves another chance on a surface he’s done well over.”

Dullahan’s task will not be easy, because this Pacific Classic field has a deep field of top-class older horses. In addition to Game On Dude, who has won four of his last six starts, the race includes two-time Pacific Classic winner Richard’s Kid, South American hotshot Suggestive Boy, and the hard-hitting veteran Rail Trip.

“It’s a good field,” Romans said. ”You’ve got the best handicap horse in the country. But it’s time to shift the 3-year-olds over and run against older. He’ll have to run his best race, better even than the Blue Grass, but he acts like he’s capable of doing it.”

Under the weight-for-age conditions of the race, Dullahan gets in with 118 pounds, six fewer than his older rivals. The 4-year-old filly Amani carries 119 pounds.

The focal point of the race will be on the Game On Dude and Richard’s Kid, who is the second choice on Hudak’s morning line at 7-2. Until last weekend, both were trained by Bob Baffert, but Richard’s Kid was sold last weekend and moved to the barn of Doug O’ Neill, where assistant Leandro Mora is supervising the on-site operation while O’Neill sits out a suspension.

At the draw party Wednesday night at a local restaurant, Baffert and his wife, Jill, got into a heated argument with Mark Verge, one of the new co-owners of Richard’s Kid, during which intemperate words flew from both sides, according to several witnesses. Earlier this week, Baffert said he was displeased with the way the sale was handled.

Baffert and Verge had a pleasant exchange during training hours on Monday right after Game On Dude worked, but it is apparent there is still some lingering hostility between the two camps over the sale of Richard’s Kid.

Both Baffert and Verge on Thursday morning politely declined to comment on the incident. But Mora, who was part of a group with Verge at the party Wednesday, said, “I think we deserve an apology. We didn’t steal the horse. He was for sale.”