08/26/2011 1:16PM

Pacific Classic: Tres Borrachos gunning for an upset

Benoit & Associates
Tres Borrachos, with Rafael Bejarano riding, wins the San Diego Handicap.

DEL MAR, Calif. – It was 20 years ago this summer that Del Mar put on its first $1 million race, the Pacific Classic, an event, next to opening day, that has become the biggest day of the season here. Marty Jones remembers that race well. Just 19 at the time, Jones had a ringside seat as Best Pal, trained by his father, Gary, came storming down the stretch to win it.

“That place was just crazy that day,” Jones remembered the other day. “It was the old grandstand, and it was just packed. It had a Derby-like feel.”

In the two decades since, Gary Jones has retired, Best Pal joined the Hall of Fame, and the Pacific Classic solidified its position as the equal of the Santa Anita Handicap and the Hollywood Gold Cup as the elite races on this circuit for older runners.

As for Marty Jones – who, he admits, was “just learning the ropes” 20 years ago – he’s done quite well for himself. He quietly has built up one of the most consistent and successful barns on this circuit, while operating well below the radar that picks up missiles trained by Bob Baffert and John Sadler.

On Sunday, though, Jones will try to knock off highly regarded runners trained by Baffert and Sadler, and join his father as a Pacific Classic-winning trainer, when he sends out the rejuvenated Tres Borrachos in the Grade 1 race.

Tres Borrachos is not nearly as accomplished as Baffert’s Game On Dude, nor Sadler’s Twirling Candy, who finished second and third, respectively, to the since-retired First Dude in last month’s Hollywood Gold Cup. But unlike those two, who figure to be the top two choices in the wagering, Tres Borrachos has a win over this track, in last month’s San Diego Handicap. And under Jones’s care, Tres Borrachos has changed his style. The former front-runner now sits and finishes, and he has turned in two sharp efforts utilizing that strategy.

“He always struck me as kind of a push-button horse, not aggressive,” Jones said. “He doesn’t need to be rushed. He finishes nice. We just let him run his race.

“He seems really good right now. He’s stepping up in class, but he deserves the chance.”

Eleven horses were entered in the Pacific Classic on Wednesday night, but fewer will start. Bourbon Bay already has been scratched in favor of the Grade 2, $200,000 Del Mar Handicap at 1 3/8 miles on turf earlier Sunday. The longshot Great Warrior is also expected to scratch. That will allow Game On Dude (who originally drew post 9) and Twirling Candy (post 10) to slide closer to the rail in the starting gate for the 1 1/4-mile race on Polytrack.

Twirling Candy has been favored in eight of his 10 lifetime starts, and is the morning-line favorite of Del Mar’s Russell Hudak for the Pacific Classic. Twirling Candy was the third head on the wire in the Hollywood Gold Cup, a race in which he conceded four pounds (122-118) to Game On Dude. Every older horse in the Pacific Classic carries 124 pounds.

The Gold Cup was Twirling Candy’s second attempt at 1 1/4 miles. In the first, the Santa Anita Handicap, he was bounced around between horses in the stretch and faded to fifth behind the victorious Game On Dude.

“He just got beat a neck last time, so we feel he can run the distance,” Sadler said. “And he’s at level weights this time.”

Sadler has trained Twirling Candy aggressively for this race, including a mile in 1:37.80 last Sunday.

Game On Dude was a 14-1 upset winner of the Santa Anita Handicap, and since then has raced three times, including a nose loss to First Dude in the Hollywood Gold Cup. The Santa Anita Handicap and the Hollywood Gold Cup are his two best races, and are the two times he has been ridden by Chantal Sutherland, who is back aboard for the Pacific Classic.

“This horse runs his guts out for her,” Bernie Schiappa, a co-owner of Game On Dude, said outside his horse’s stall on Friday morning.

There are several others who can win on their best day, most notably Acclamation, who is moving back to the main track following three straight graded stakes victories on turf.

“He’s the best I’ve ever had, and I’ve trained for 30 years,” said Acclamation’s trainer, Don Warren.

Jeranimo was second to Acclamation in the Eddie Read five weeks ago.

Don Cavallo has shipped in from Woodbine, where he won the Dominion Day on Polytrack. He is 3 for 4 on synthetic surfaces.

“It seems his form is better and more consistent on Polytrack,” Roger Attfield, who trains Don Cavallo, said Friday morning.

Stately Victor was a distant third to Don Cavallo in the Dominion Day.

Setsuko was second and Quindici Man third to Game On Dude in the Santa Anita Handicap. Setsuko owns just 1 win in 15 starts, and has finished second or third nine times, but he has drilled smartly in recent weeks for retired Hall of Fame jockey Julie Krone, who has been working this summer for trainer Richard Mandella.

If Setsuko finally gets over the hump, “I’m sure she’ll take the credit,” Mandella said Friday.

The Pacific Classic is the ninth race on an 11-race card that begins one hour earlier than usual, at 1 p.m. Pacific time. The race will be televised live on TVG and streamed live online on DRF.com and ESPN3.

The Pacific Classic is part of the Breeders' Cup Challenge progran, and the winner receives a guaranteed, fees-paid berth in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

BREEDERS' CUP CHALLENGE: Racing schedule, replays, and past winners »

◗ In addition to the Del Mar Handicap, featuring Bourbon Bay, there is another terrific stakes race on the undercard. Smiling Tiger, one of the best older sprinters in the country, takes on the comebacking 3-year-old The Factor in the Grade 1, $250,000 Pat O’Brien Stakes over seven furlongs.