08/23/2008 11:00PM

Pacific Classic crown up for grabs

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Benoit & Associates
Go Between is the 3-1 morning-line favorite in a field of 11 for the $1 million Pacific Classic Sunday at Del Mar.

DEL MAR, Calif. - The richest race of summer will be run for the 18th time Sunday at Del Mar, but let there be no mistake - the $1 million Pacific Classic is still brand new.

After 16 years on dirt, the 2007 Pacific Classic was the first on Polytrack, and Student Council, then an allowance-caliber horse, turned traditional class handicapping upside-down with a stunning 23-1 surprise in the first Grade 1 start of his career.

Cynics blamed the upset on the synthetic surface. After all, Student Council required 2:07.29 to finish the 1 1/4-mile race on the new, slow footing. But it turns out the reasoning was wrong. The handicap division was merely in turmoil, and recent retirements of Lava Man and Heatseeker suggest the division may still be in chaos.

So the question on Sunday is, whose turn now?

Enter the veteran Go Between, whose recent emergence as a top horse is due to either maturation or a switch to synthetics.

"I'd say it was a combination of both," trainer Bill Mott said, and if the Pacific Classic unfolds as expected, Go Between and jockey Garrett Gomez can sweep to a come-from-behind victory as the 3-1 morning-line favorite.

Go Between certainly is due. Since winning the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic in January at Santa Anita, he finished second in three straight, including two Grade 1's - the Hollywood Gold Cup and Santa Anita Handicap. His 5 starts on synthetic produced 2 wins and 3 seconds.

In the Pacific Classic on Sunday, Go Between and last year's winner Student Council are the principals. It goes as race 10 on an outstanding 11-race card with four graded stakes.

The four stakes winners gain automatic berths in corresponding Breeders' Cup races, subject to entry fees. Win and You're In races are the Grade 3 Rancho Bernardo for filly-and-mare sprinters in which Magnificience can avenge a recent loss to Dearest Trickski; the Grade 2 Pat O'Brien Handicap with 2007 Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Midnight Lute; and the Grade 2 Del Mar Mile, a turf race with Daytona and Monzante. Del Mar has guaranteed a $1 million pick six pool on races 6-11.

As for the Pacific Classic field, it can be grouped in three categories. The favorites are Go Between and Student Council; the four front-runners/pace-pressers are Well Armed, Mast Track, Barcola and Delosvientos; Awesome Gem, Zappa, Surf Cat, McCann's Mojave, and Mostacolli Mort are the five closers.

Go Between is returning to California for the fourth time this year, and running for the first time since a second-place finish June 28 in the Hollywood Gold Cup. Mott's last Pacific Classic starter was Cigar in 1996, who had won 16 straight going in. He said Go Between should be fitter going into the Pacific Classic than he was for the Gold Cup.

"He's had a more consistent, tougher schedule," he said.

Go Between did not have an ideal pace scenario in the Gold Cup, which was won by slow-pace front-runner Mast Track.

"I think we're looking at a fairly honest pace," Mott said. "I don't think anyone's going to be loose on the lead without a challenge."

Front-runner Well Armed, who won the 1 1/16-mile San Diego Handicap last out, should set the pace.

"He's got such a high cruising speed, he keeps clicking off the same fractions," trainer Eoin Harty said.

Aaron Gryder rides Well Armed, who will aim for the Breeders' Cup Classic if he stays the trip. If not, it's the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.

"That is Plan B," Harty said.

Mast Track won the Hollywood Gold Cup wire to wire at 10-1, and some believe the pace scenario Sunday works against him.

"I don't see that it does," owner-breeder-trainer Bobby Frankel said. "[Rafael] Bejarano has won on him three times, and none of those times was he on the lead."

Frankel said the blinkers that Mast Track added last time were to prevent him from waiting on horses.

Zappa also won his most recent start on the lead, but trainer John Sadler acknowledges a different scenario Sunday than when Zappa won the 1 1/2-mile Cougar II Handicap by more than six lengths.

"He won't be on the lead," Sadler said. "We're trying to model this race after the Big Cap where he will sit behind the speed, then pounce."

Zappa and Well Armed are the only starters with a Del Mar main-track win this meet, a factor Sadler believes cannot be overstated.

"He loves this track, he floats over this track," Sadler said.

The main goal for Zappa is the Breeders' Cup Dirt Marathon this fall. Alan Garcia rides Zappa.

Awesome Gem finished second last year in the Pacific Classic, and was second in his recent comeback.

"He couldn't be training any better for this race," trainer Craig Dollase said.

Tyler Baze opted to ride Awesome Gem over Gold Cup winner Mast Track.

Surf Cat is trained by Bruce Headley, who disputes the 6-year-old is racing beyond his distance preference.

"Just because he's blessed with speed doesn't mean he won't go a distance," Headley said.

The only time Surf Cat attempted 1 1/4 miles was as a 3-year-old in the Pacific Classic.

"I made a bad decision; I should have kept him with 3-year-olds," Headley said.

Go Between, Student Council, Awesome Gem, Well Armed, and Surf Cat are millionaires, as is the oldest horse in the field, the 8-year-old McCann's Mojave, who was fourth in the Hollywood Gold Cup.

Post time for the Pacific Classic is 6:46 p.m. Pacific.