08/20/2008 11:00PM

Pacific Classic could turn into a duel


DEL MAR, Calif. - Between them, Mast Track and Well Armed have won the two most recent major stakes for older horses on the main track in California. Mast Track won the $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup on June 28, and Well Armed won the $300,000 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar on July 19.

They will meet for the first time in Sunday's $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar. The race distance of 1 1/4 miles, and their similar running styles, will pose a test.

Mast Track won the Gold Cup at 1 1/4 miles, but set an easy pace of 24.41 and 48.88 seconds. He won by 2 1/4 lengths in a 9-1 upset.

Well Armed has never won beyond 1 1/8 miles, although he won at that distance in the Grade 2 San Antonio Handicap at Santa Anita last February. Well Armed led throughout the San Diego Handicap at 1 1/16 miles, winning by 1 1/4 lengths.

A speed duel in the Pacific Classic could prevent both from winning. Such a scenario could keep Mast Track from leading early, according to Humberto Ascanio, assistant trainer to Bobby Frankel.

Mast Track, who could give Frankel his seventh win in the 18-year history of the Pacific Classic, has won from off the pace in the past when ridden by Rafael Bejarano, who has the mount on Sunday.

"This time, I don't know how the race will come up," Ascanio said. "I know there is some speed. I know he doesn't need the lead. Whatever you want to do with him, you can do."

Not having to set the pace could be an advantage. Said Ascanio, "It's tough to win on the lead here."

Mast Track is owned by Juddmonte Farms, an outfit that has won a record four runnings of the Pacific Classic, most recently in 2001 with Skimming.

Well Armed, owned by WinStar Farm and trained by Eoin Harty, was third in the Dubai World Cup at 1 1/4 miles on March 29. He led for the first mile, and finished eight lengths behind reigning Horse of the Year Curlin. The San Diego Handicap is his only subsequent start.

"He's a front-runner and he likes to be on the lead," Harty said. "If he gets beat, he gets beat. The mile and a quarter is a big question. I'm not going to change his style of racing."

Mast Track and Well Armed are part of an expected field of 11, including Awesome Gem, Barcola, Delosvientos, Go Between, McCann's Mojave, Mostacolli Mort, Student Council, Surf Cat, and Zappa, according to Del Mar racing officials.

Post positions were scheduled to be drawn on Wednesday evening.