08/20/2013 12:39PM

Pacific Classic: Repeat would restore Dullahan's reputation

Tom Keyser
All three of Dullahan's career victories have come on Polytrack, including a score in last year's Grade 1 Pacific Classic.

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DEL MAR, Calif. – Dullahan left Dubai in the spring after two poor performances with a crummy souvenir from his international journey: He emerged from an 11th-place finish in the $10 million Dubai World Cup with an illness.

Almost five months later, the 4-year-old Dullahan has been sent back on the road, to Southern California for the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Sunday. The last trip to Del Mar with Dullahan is a much fonder memory for Jerry Crawford, the managing partner of Donegal Racing, and trainer Dale Romans.

Last August, Dullahan won the richest race of his 17-race career in the Pacific Classic, catching the heavily favored Game On Dude in the final furlong of Del Mar’s top race for older horses. A repeat of that performance is possible this weekend, Crawford said.

“If he runs like he did a year ago, no one will beat him,” Crawford said last weekend.

Since recovering from the Dubai journey, a return trip to Del Mar has been a goal with Dullahan. Even though Dullahan is winless in five starts since the 2012 Pacific Classic, Crawford insists that the colt can regain his past form.

“It’s not too late at all,” Crawford said. “It’s a question of him giving us his best effort.”

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A start in the Pacific Classic signifies a return to Dullahan’s favored Polytrack synthetic surface. All three of his career wins have been on Polytrack in Grade 1 races, including two races at Keeneland – the Breeders’ Futurity in 2011 (as a maiden) and the Blue Grass Stakes in 2012. Dullahan was third in the 2012 Kentucky Derby on dirt at Churchill Downs.

Dullahan has run well on turf. In his first start after the Dubai journey, Dullahan finished third in the Grade 3 Arlington Handicap over 1 1/4 miles on grass July 13, closing from fifth in a field of seven to finish three-quarters of a length behind Rahystrada.

“The third could have easily been a first,” Crawford said. “We thought going on the grass would be the best way to get him ready because of the distance. Based on his breezes since the Arlington Handicap, we’re bringing him in in peak fashion. He’s been sitting on go for the last three or four weeks. His breezes have been very good.”

Dullahan had his final workout before the Pacific Classic at Churchill Downs last Sunday, five furlongs in 59.80 seconds.

A win in the Pacific Classic would put Dullahan on course for the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 2. The Pacific Classic is part of the Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In program, offering a fees-paid berth to the BC Classic for the winner.

Last year, Dullahan finished ninth in the BC Turf at Santa Anita after Crawford said he was unhappy with the speed-favoring nature of the Santa Anita main track.

“It wouldn’t have been fair for the horse,” Crawford said.

Dubai was the initial focus for Dullahan earlier this year, but the trip was not a success. Dullahan made his first start of the year in the $200,000 Burj Nahar Stakes in Dubai on March 9, finishing 11th.

In the Dubai World Cup, Dullahan was in the first half of the 12-horse field for a mile but faded through the last three furlongs to finish 34 1/4 lengths behind the victorious Animal Kingdom. Crawford was stunned by the loss, until the illness was diagnosed. With that news, it was hard for him to draw a conclusion about the race.

“One of the most frustrating things about horse racing are races when you don’t learn anything,” he said. “He spiked a huge temperature the morning after the race. You don’t spike a fever when you are perfectly healthy the night before. We’ll never know what could have happened in Dubai unless we go back.”

That is a long way off, if at all. The immediate objective is a win in the Pacific Classic, which could restore Dullahan’s status in the older-horse division. Plus, it would cut down on some of the painting bill at Del Mar: The jockey statue in the paddock would remain in Donegal’s colors. There would, however, be another portrait of Dullahan to hang in the clubhouse lobby with the other Pacific Classic winners.

“We like having his picture on the wall and his silks in the paddock,” Crawford said. “Having that for two years wouldn’t hurt our feelings.”