08/16/2013 12:41PM

Del Mar: Farraaj on transatlantic mission in Pacific Classic

Barbara D. Livingston
Farraaj would be the first foreign-trained horse to win the Pacific Classic.

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DEL MAR, Calif. – Back in March, on a wet Saturday at Lingfield Racecourse south of London, trainer Roger Varian’s thoughts turned to sunny Southern California.

Farraaj had won the $151,200 Winter Derby at 1 1/4 miles on a Polytrack synthetic surface at Lingfield that day to launch his 2013 season, and Varian began brainstorming options for the rest of the year. Despite being thousands of miles away from Del Mar, Varian did not think running Farraaj in the Grade 1, $1 million Pacific Classic Stakes on Aug. 25 was so far-fetched.

“The Pacific Classic was a race that went through our mind,” Varian said earlier this week.

Varian and his team are seeing the plan through to fruition.

Farraaj arrived in Southern California on Wednesday and is on schedule for a start in the Pacific Classic. While the race will provide a stern test, a win by Farraaj would be Del Mar history – the first foreign-trained horse to win the track’s seven-figure race.

Since the race was launched in 1991, horses who began their careers in other countries have won the Pacific Classic, notably the British import Tinners Way in 1994-95, and the French import Dare and Go, who beat Cigar in 1996. The most recent was Candy Ride from Argentina in 2003. They were based with California trainers when they won.

The 4-year-old Farraaj, owned by Sheikh Ahmed al-Maktoum, will make his third start outside of England in the Pacific Classic. At 2, he finished a game third to Wrote in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Churchill Downs. At 3, Farraaj made the relatively short international trip to Italy where he was third in the Italian 2000 Guineas in April 2012.

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The way that Farraaj handled those journeys suggested to Varian that a 5,500-mile journey to California was feasible.

“He took the journey in stride,” Varian said of the trip to Churchill Downs in 2011. “It was always appealing, as he’s a gelding, to do some international trips.”

A winner of 4 of 9 starts and an earner of $257,798, Farraaj has won two stakes, both at 1 1/4 miles on Polytrack at Lingfield. Last November, the Irish-bred by Dubai Destination won the $52,400 Churchill Stakes there in his first start since the Italian 2000 Guineas.

Farraaj has been lightly raced in the past 18 months. He had one start after the Winter Derby earlier this year, finishing fifth of seven in the Grade 2 Sandown Mile Stakes on turf on April 26.

“The ground was a little soft that day,” Varian said. “He likes good to firm ground. He wasn’t 100 percent afterward in his health. He took a little bit of time to recover. We’ve had a clear preparation for the last six weeks.”

Varian, 34, has had success in this country. He assisted trainer Michael Jarvis for a decade before taking over the stable in Newmarket, England, in early 2011. Jarvis died in September 2011. Last year, Varian had his first Grade 1 winner in the United States when Sheikh Ahmed’s Nahrain won the Flower Bowl Invitational at Belmont Park. Nahrain was second in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Churchill Downs.

Earlier this year, Varian won the Group 1 Pretty Polly Stakes in Ireland in June with the 4-year-old filly Ambivalent. Two weeks later, he won the Group 2 Summer Mile Stakes at Ascot with Aljamaaheer.

Whether Farraaj can give Varian his richest win of the year depends on how the gelding handles a tough group of American older horses expected to include Game On Dude, Dullahan, and Liaison. It will be a lot different than the group he raced against in the Winter Derby.

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The trip to California was confirmed after Farraaj had a workout at Great Leighs Racecourse, northeast of London, earlier this month. Great Leighs is not currently conducting racing, but has a left-handed synthetic surface that replicates the layout of a typical American course.

“He’s in good shape,” Varian said. “He pleased me with the way he went around that track. He has not run for some time, but he’s training really well the last few weeks.

“We’re really excited about having a go at the Pacific Classic.”