08/22/2014 1:06PM

Smith could cap big meet with Pacific Classic win

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Mike Smith chose to ride the 3-year-old Shared Belief (above) over the 7-year-old Game On Dude in the Pacific Classic.

DEL MAR, Calif. – From opening day onward, Mike Smith has been making all the right moves at Del Mar. Though he has accepted far fewer mounts than any other jockey in the top 10, Smith has the best winning percentage among his brethren and is within hailing distance of the lead.

He won the Oceanside Stakes on opening day and since then has won the Eddie Read, La Jolla, John Mabee, and Rancho Bernardo. No other rider has won more stakes at Del Mar this summer.

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He is hoping that hot hand continues Sunday. Heading into the Grade 1, $1 million Pacific Classic, he has been the regular rider for Game On Dude for more than a year, and he secured the mount on Shared Belief for his victory last time out in the Los Alamitos Derby. Both are running in the Pacific Classic.

 

When it came time to cast his lot for the biggest race of the meet, Smith, 49, chose youth. He’ll be on Shared Belief, who is the morning-line favorite for the Pacific Classic even though he will be racing at Del Mar for the first time, is going 1 1/4 miles for the first time, and is going up against the best group he’s ever faced. Plus, Game On Dude is the defending race winner.

“It was an extremely difficult decision,” Smith said. “Game On Dude, when he runs one of his A-plus races, there’s not many who can beat him.”

It came down not just to this race, but to the future. Game On Dude is 7, Shared Belief 3. Both are geldings.

“Shared Belief should have a few good years ahead of him,” Smith said. “Game On Dude, I’m not sure how long his career is going to be after this year.”

Shared Belief landed the outside post in what is now a field of 10, following the scratch on Saturday of Frac Daddy. He was on the rail, causing all the runners to move in one slot. Game On Dude originally was in post 5. The other main contenders include Irish Surf, who was a romping winner over Polytrack in the Cougar II last time out; Majestic Harbor, who beat Game On Dude in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita; and Toast of New York, who won the United Arab Emirates Derby and has never finished worse than second in four starts on synthetic surfaces.


DRF FORMULATOR FACT: No. 11 Shared Belief. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer is 3 for 6 with a $5.06 ROI over the past two years in graded stakes routes on synthetic surfaces following a layoff of at least 45 days.Click for more details. Mike Hogan

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A wild card is the import Mystery Train, who makes his first start in North America and his first on a synthetic surface on the heels of a three-race win streak in his native Argentina, including a pair of Group 1 scores. He possesses sharp early speed, which at the least will make him a pace factor that Game On Dude must overcome.

The Pacific Classic is the 10th race on an 11-race card that begins one hour earlier than usual at 1 p.m. Pacific. There are two supporting stakes, the Del Mar Mile on turf and the Pat O’Brien at seven furlongs, both Grade 2, $250,000 races.

The Pacific Classic and Pat O’Brien will be shown live on NBCSN during a one-hour telecast beginning at 5 p.m. Pacific. Both are Win and You’re In races toward the Breeders’ Cup; the Pacific Classic winner gets a fees-paid berth in the BC Classic, the Pat O’Brien winner the BC Dirt Mile.

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KEY CONTENDERS

SHARED BELIEF (Last 3 Beyers: 104-96-106)

◗ Last year’s champion male 2-year-old, he is unbeaten in five starts, having won a pair of races this year after recovering from a foot problem that kept him out of the Triple Crown.

◗ Has won all five races by at least 4 1/4 lengths.

◗ Eligible for a $1 million bonus through the Bolton Challenge, which pays off to a horse who can win the Los Alamitos Derby, Pacific Classic, and BC Classic.

GAME ON DUDE (Last 3 Beyers: 92-105-117)

◗ Doubts about his aptitude on Polytrack were erased with his runaway victory in last year’s Pacific Classic.

◗ He has won just once in six starts since then, but that resulted in an eye-catching 117 Beyer Speed Figure in the Santa Anita Handicap.

◗ He’s been an odds-on favorite in three of his last four races, and lost each time.

◗ Has trained sensationally all summer here. “His last two works were really great,” said his trainer, Bob Baffert. “He’s really getting over the track well.”

IRISH SURF (Last 3 Beyers: 91-91-81)

◗ Doesn’t measure up on Beyers, but one cannot deny the visual impression he made when winning the Cougar II.

◗ Late-developing colt seems to be improving with every start.


DRF FORMULATOR FACT: No. 2 Irish Surf. Trainer Dan Hendricks is 3 for 14 with a $2.40 ROI over the past five years in synthetic routes with last-out winners.Click for more details. Dan Illman