September 28, 2023

Express Train favored over Royal Ship, Dr Post in nine-horse Pacific Classic

Express Train fends off Tripoli (left) and Royal Ship (rail) in the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar © BENOIT PHOTO

San Diego H. (G2) winner Express Train has been installed as the 3-1 morning line favorite in Saturday’s 31st running of the $1 million Pacific Classic (G1) at Del Mar. The four-year-old heads a nine-horse field that includes Grade 2 victor Royal Ship and East Coast invader Dr Post.

The 1 1/4-mile Pacific Classic serves as a “Win & You’re In” race, awarding a free berth to the Nov. 6 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Del Mar.

Trained by John Shirreffs, Express Train opened the season with a convincing win in the San Pasqual (G2) at Santa Anita. After a close second in the Santa Anita H. (G1), the Union Rags colt followed with a pair of thirds in the Oaklawn H. (G2) and Hollywood Gold Cup (G1). Express Train rebounded in the July 17 San Diego, pressing the pace before edging away to a half-length decision, and he’ll retain the services of Juan Hernandez.

Royal Ship, listed as the early 7-2 second choice, switched from turf to dirt with a victory in the Californian S. (G2) in mid-April. The Brazilian-bred gelding followed with a head second in the Hollywood Gold Cup, and he exits a close third as the favorite in the San Diego. Mike Smith, who is tied for the most Pacific Classic wins with four, rides for Richard Mandella.

Dr Post ships in for Todd Pletcher after capturing the July 17 Monmouth Cup (G3). Multiple Grade 1-placed last season, the four-year-old colt has recorded a pair of Grade 3 tallies in 2021. Joel Rosario will be back up on the son of Quality Road, who is the 4-1 third choice on the morning line.

Mandella will also send out Tizamagician, the odds-on winner of the July 18 Cougar II H. (G3) at Del Mar. A two-time Grade 3 scorer this season, the four-year-old will cut back in trip after making his last three starts at 1 1/2 miles. He’s 5-1 on the morning line with Flavien Prat.

Multiple stakes winner Independence Hall, third in the Pegasus World Cup (G1) earlier this season, has also been pegged at 5-1. Last seen finishing third as the odds-on favorite in the Californian, the four-year-old will return from a four-month freshening for Michael McCarthy and add the services of Florent Geroux.

Tripoli, second when making his stakes debut in the San Diego, is also back for the Pacific Classic. Tiago Pereira will be back up on the four-year-old colt for John Sadler. Rounding out the field are Cougar runner-up Cupid’s Claw; Triple Bend (G2) winner Magic On Tap; and Sunland Park stakes victor Sheriff Brown.