DEL MAR — The last time trainer Bobby Frankel sprung a surprise in a $1-million race, with Marquetry at 27-1 in last year's Hollywood Gold Cup, he practically ensured the public of a victory ahead of time. Frankel reasoned that Marquetry wasn't going to be carrying much weight and would be on the lead in a paceless race.
This time, before the $1-million Pacific Classic at Del Mar, Frankel was more subtle. When the post positions were drawn for the 1 1/4-mile race on Thursday, he said: "I don't think he (Missionary Ridge) will win. But if he just finishes third or fourth, it's like winning a $100,000 race."
Minutes after Kent Desormeaux had ridden Missionary Ridge to 3 1/2-length victory before 24,382 Sunday, the jockey was asked if Frankel had been as pessimistic with him about the 5-year-old English-bred's chances.
"He didn't say he was going to win, but he told me we weren't running for second," Desormeaux said. "But maybe he was just trying to get me pumped up. I've been trying for two years to ride a horse for Bobby. He sure gave me a good one."
Before Sunday, owner Peter Wall's horse was winless in three tries on dirt. He had won only twice on dirt or turf in the last two years and had won only one of his last 13 starts. Hence the $51 payoff after Missionary Ridge came home in 2:00 4/5, a second slower than Best Pal ran in his track-record time in last year's Classic.
In addition to the $550,000 winner's share of the purse, the Frankel barn also won $200,000 when Defensive Play, owned by Prince Khalid Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, finished a neck in front of Claret for second place. Claret probably deserved second, but his jockey, Eddie Delahoussaye, stood up in the irons at the first finish line, 87 feet away from the seldom-used wire that served as the end of the Classic.
There were two major disappointments on Classic day--one the moment the gates opened and Jolie's Halo stumbled and threw his jockey, and the other at the quarter pole, where Chris McCarron asked Paseana for a finishing kick and she had nothing left. The 5-year-old mare, undefeated in six races this year and on a seven-race winning streak overall, would have entered the horse-of-the-year picture by beating males, but she finished fifth as the 17-10 favorite.
Jolie's Halo, with Edgar Prado aboard, was the 3-1 third choice, behind Paseana and Another Review. The 5-year-old Jolie's Halo stumbled badly, going to his knees, and tossed Prado on his left shoulder. A 3,000-mile trip from Philadelphia had been wasted before the Iselin Handicap winner had run a step.
Desormeaux, whose horse broke from the No. 3 gate, two stalls inside of Jolie's Halo, said he wasn't aware of Prado's spill until after the race. Had Jolie's Halo stayed in the race, he would have pressured Missionary Ridge for the lead.
Before Bob Camac began training Jolie's Halo, the horse had stumbled leaving the gate early last year, while finishing third in the Oaklawn Handicap.
"He's so quick and so agile," Camac said. "He just outbreaks himself. He might have fooled the rider with how quick he came out. Man, this hurts. This is racing, and I know it. But sometimes racing really hurts. The horse brushed a fence over there, but the horse and the rider are OK."
Prado bounced up quickly after Jolie's Halo dropped him. "I wanted to jump back on the horse," Prado said.
Missionary Ridge was left alone on the lead, with Paseana where she was expected to be, slightly off the pace and never more than a length behind. Down the backstretch, after fractions of 23 1/5 and 46 1/5, Defensive Play joined the two leaders on the far outside, enabling Frankel's pair to sandwich Paseana.
On the turn for home, with six furlongs in 1:10 2/5 and a mile in 1:35 behind them, the leaders didn't change. "Just before the turn, I asked her to run," McCarron said of Paseana. "She didn't accelerate. There's just no excuse. You never know how much Missionary Ridge has in his tank. Kent was riding him hard down the backstretch, because he's the kind of horse that needs that. Sometimes he stops. But today, he just kept going."
Missionary Ridge carried 124 pounds, the same as the rest of the starters, except Paseana at 119. Missionary Ridge's only victory this year had been in the San Jacinto Handicap on grass at Santa Anita in April. He ran two more times on turf before Frankel returned him to dirt for a third-place finish in the Bel Air Handicap at Hollywood Park and a fourth, behind Another Review, Claret and Quintana, in the 1 1/8-mile San Diego Handicap here three weeks ago.
"The horse is lazy, but he had been training well on dirt," Frankel said. "His best distance has been a mile and a quarter, and he didn't run well on grass here last year, so I decided to run him. Don't make me out to be a smart guy. Sometimes these things work. Most of the time they don't."
Del Mar Notes
The favorite in Sunday's $175,000 Del Mar Oaks fared even worse than Paseana. Golden Treat, sent off at 7-5, based on a turf victory in the San Clemente Handicap on Aug. 8, went from second to seventh by the end of the 1 1/8-mile grass race, which was won by Suivi, who barely wore down Race The Wild Wind in the final strides.