09/07/2009 12:00AM

Global Hunter worth a shot at 20-1


LEXINGTON, Ky. - There are three graded stakes races on Del Mar's Sunday card, highlighted by the $1 million Pacific Classic.

The Grade 1, 1 1/4-mile Pacific Classic is the ninth race. Rail Trip is a tempting possibility. Consistency is his specialty, with 6 wins and 2 second-place finishes from 8 starts. He ran a career-best race last time when he earned a 111 Beyer Speed Figure in a three-length win in the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup. Based on his merits, his 4-1 morning-line odds seem rather generous.

Unfortunately, there's a catch. Rail Trip likes to be on or close to the early lead most of the time in his races. Horses with early and tactical speed were more effective in two-turn route races on the synthetic surface at Hollywood during the first half of July than they have been recently in that situation at Del Mar. If that trend continues Sunday, Rail Trip and front-running second-place finisher Tres Borrachos might not be able to match the form they showed in their first- and second-place finishes in the Hollywood Gold Cup.

Einstein, 7-2 on the morning line, will rate behind the leaders and can win this race with his best performance. But it's a concern that he ran a dull race when he finished fifth of eight on the turf, which is probably his preferred surface, last time in the Grade 1 Arlington Million. He might like synthetic surfaces just as much as the grass based on his victory in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap in his lone previous synthetic start, but that won't matter unless he rebounds and delivers one of his better efforts.

Colonel John is an appealing contender based on his strong 3-year-old form from last year. He won the Santa Anita Derby and the Travers and finished sixth of 12, just five lengths behind Raven's Pass, while battling older rivals in the Breeders' Cup Classic. His off-the-pace running style is a plus, and he looked good winning at this meet in his return from a seven-month vacation while making his turf debut. He has trained well since that race and figures to improve second time off the bench. I believe he is the most likely winner, but at 5-2 on the morning line, he might not be the betting value.

I'm going to take a chance and pick a longshot to win this race. Global Hunter was not competitive against Rail Trip in the Hollywood Gold Cup while returning from a three-month layoff. He ran a much better race as the upset winner of the Grade 1 Eddie Read on the turf in his next start. Interestingly, he cut back from 1 1/8 miles to six furlongs when he challenged sprinters and finished a contending third on this synthetic surface last time in the Bing Crosby. He showed surprising tactical speed against a swift pace in that race, but he'll probably return to off-the-pace tactics Sunday. He ran fast enough in the Bing Crosby to suggest that he is in top form, and I believe that continued progress is possible as he stretches out today. His 20-1 morning-line odds make him worth a bet.

My selection in the Grade 2 Del Mar Derby, a 1 1/8-mile turf race, is Papa Clem. Although he has lost four straight races since his triumph in the Arkansas Derby, he ran well in most of them. He finished a very respectable fourth of 19 in the Kentucky Derby and then chased Rachel Alexandra in two of those other defeats. His performance last time in the Grade 1 Haskell was especially good. He earned a career-best 103 Beyer while finishing fourth, and although he was no match for Rachel Alexandra, he finished only 1 3/4 lengths behind Summer Bird, who won the Grade 1 Travers by 3 1/2 lengths in his next start. I'd be willing to make Papa Clem my top selection in this race based strictly on his form in the dirt races mentioned above, but I like him even more when I factor in the likelihood that he will improve with a 342 turf Tomlinson as he makes his first start on the grass. Exotic players should consider throwing Battle of Hastings, Afleet Eagle, Oil Man, and Midnight Mischief into the mix.

The Grade 1 Pat O'Brien, race 4 on the card, is first on the menu. Zensational is the speed of the speed in this seven-furlong race and he also is the class of this field with four straight wins, including consecutive Grade 1 victories in the Triple Bend at Hollywood and the Bing Crosby at Del Mar in his two most recent starts. Screen to Screen is the only other member of this six-horse field who has shown tactical speed recently, and he faces a difficult assignment in this race with only a maiden win and a narrow $75,000 first-level optional claiming win to his credit from 17 career starts. If his connections want to maximize the chance that he will hold on for any significant share of purse money in this race, dueling with the speedy Zensational is probably the least likely way to achieve that goal.

Zensational is my selection. If you're hoping to beat him, the best alternatives are the two members of this field who chased him in their most recent race. Talkin to Mom Roo finished second, 2 1/2 lengths behind Zensational in the Bing Crosby. He is in good form now, with strong Beyers from each of his last two races, and looks like the horse most likely to complete this exacta if he is unable to register the upset. Noble Court was last of 10 at the first call in the Triple Bend. He made up 10 lengths from that point but was behind by 11 lengths at the time. Finishing third, only a length behind Zensational was a strong performance, but the concern is that he will probably have to work harder to be as effective as a deep closer versus slower fractions today.