08/16/2006 11:00PM

No need to overthink the Pacific Classic

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Bettors familiar with historical trivia and the Pacific Classic can go many different directions Sunday at Del Mar, where eight older horses line up for $1 million in the marquee race of summer.

The Pacific Classic winner is in here somewhere - Giacomo, Preachinatthebar, Lava Man, Good Reward, Super Frolic, Magnum, or Perfect Drift. As for allowance runner Top This and That, the best-case scenario is a clunk-up third. Sorry about that.

Don't worry. There are seven good ones to choose from.

Sentimental horseplayers might like Giacomo, the Kentucky Derby hero, whose workouts since winning the San Diego Handicap last month have been exceptional. And there is precedent for a deep closer winning the Pacific Classic. Remember Borrego last year?

Maybe pacesetter Preachinatthebar will steal the Pacific Classic. He could shake loose just like front-runner Skimming did twice, in 2000 and 2001. Even speedball miler Bertrando wired the 1 1/4-mile race in 1993. Why not Preachinatthebar?

Historical minutia always comes in handy, because it can be twisted any which way.

Don't forget, the Pacific Classic is a death march for favorites. The race has been won only twice by the choice - Pleasantly Perfect ($4) in 2004, Gentlemen ($3) in 1997 - so this could be a good spot to knock the chalk. After all, the 8-5 favorite, Lava Man, is running slower times this year than last year, when he finished a tiring third in the Pacific Classic and became the 13th losing favorite in the 15-year history of the race.

How about East Coast turf horse Good Reward? Doesn't he look a little like Missionary Ridge? Before winning the 1992 Pacific Classic, Missionary Ridge raced five times on dirt and hit the board once. Good Reward has raced seven times on dirt and hit the board once.

The thing is, 1992 probably was a fluke year. The mare Paseana went favored and ran out. Good Reward may not be such a good idea after all.

Super Frolic finished fourth in the Pacific Classic last year, so he could win this year. Remember what Pleasantly Perfect did four summers ago and three summers ago? He was fourth in the Pacific Classic in 2002, first in the Pacific Classic in 2003. Of course, by the time Pleasantly Perfect got around to winning the Pacific Classic, he already had knocked over the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic and $6 million Dubai World Cup. Super Frolic is still looking for his first Grade 1, and he picks up eight pounds off a third-place finish behind Lava Man in the Hollywood Gold Cup.

Magnum is a good horse from Argentina, the same country that produced two previous Pacific Classic winners. Place of origin is Magnum's only similarity to 1997 Pacific Classic winner Gentlemen or 2003 winner Candy Ride, both of whom were freaks of nature. Candy Ride was an unbeaten Group 1 winner, and when Gentlemen won the Pacific Classic, he earned a third consecutive Beyer Speed Figure in the 120's. That does not happen.

Magnum is good, just not that good. But he is from Argentina.

Perfect Drift, back in the Pacific Classic a third straight year, would be a feel-good story. He is 7 years old, however, and old horses do not win the Pacific Classic, especially not old horses like Perfect Drift, whose last five starts earned Beyer Speed Figures of 99 or less.

At some point, age catches up. Only three similarly old horses have run in the Pacific Classic: Night Patrol was 8 when he finished last in 2004; Slew of Damascus was 7 when he ran fourth in 1995; and River Keen was 7 when he finished second in 1999.

Perfect Drift is a rugged warrior, but he is running at least three lengths slower this year than he was running last year.

Lava Man is slightly slower, too, but it does not matter, because Lava Man has a cushion. He still earns relatively fast figures. It is an important handicapping factor. In the 15-year history of the Pacific Classic, every winner was a fast horse based on speed figures. Every winner had earned multiple Beyer Speed Figures of 107 or higher, from 1992 longshot winner Missionary Ridge (109-108) to 2005 longshot winner Borrego (107-107-107). Several other Pacific Classic upset winners - such as Came Home ($23 in 2002), Dare and Go ($81.20 in 1996), and Tinners Way ($16.20 in 1994) - also were fast horses going in.

A prime requisite for winning the Pacific Classic is proven speed. The Beyer par for the Pacific Classic winner is 116. A "slow" horse has never won the race.

It could change this year. Preachinatthebar, whose career-best Beyer is a 101, could get loose. Or the pace could melt, and Giacomo (103 career best) could be in the right place at the right time for the second time in his career.

Good Reward has won Grade 1 turf races at odds of 16-1 and 14-1, so he has a history of surprise. Even the old codger Perfect Drift once was good enough. Maybe he will reach back one more time for old time's sake.

But when it comes right down to it, only three runners in the 2006 Pacific Classic are still good enough - fast enough - to win.

Lava Man heads the list. He traded his brilliant Beyers of last year, when he posted highs of 116 and 120, for consistency this year, posting Beyers of 113, 106, 107, and 109 in his last four. The other contenders are Magnum (111 and 107 in his last two) and Super Frolic (career-best 108 last out and in last year's BC Classic).

There is a whole lot of historical trivia in which a bettor could get lost Sunday, but the race is not that tough. The 2006 Pacific Classic should be won by Lava Man, Magnum, or Super Frolic.