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Mast Track on fast track?

Frankel's colt will be out to prove Gold Cup victory wasn't a fluke, as Pacific Classic highlights a day of four stakes at Del Mar.

August 24, 2008|Eric Sondheimer | Times Staff Writer

Nearly $2 million will be up for grabs and four automatic berths into the Breeders' Cup on the line today at Del Mar, where four graded stakes highlight an 11-race card that includes the lucrative Pacific Classic.

It's a chance for Breeders' Cup contenders to separate themselves from the pretenders, and one of the most closely watched horses will be Mast Track, an improving 4-year-old who won the Hollywood Gold Cup on June 28 wire-to-wire as a 10-1 longshot.

The Bobby Frankel-trained and owned son of Mizzen Mast is part of an 11-horse field for the most important race of the day, the $1-million Pacific Classic, Grade 1 at 1 1/4 miles on Del Mar's main track. The winner receives a guaranteed spot in the Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 25 at Santa Anita as part of the Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" program.

There are some who believe Mast Track's last victory was a fluke because there was little speed in that race after favorite Heatseeker was scratched. Mast Track won the Grade I Gold Cup by 2 1/4 lengths over Go Between and Student Council, two horses that will take another crack today.

"Nobody wants to give him credit," said Humberto Ascanio, Frankel's chief assistant in charge of his Del Mar stable. "I think [Mast Track] is a nice horse. I know there was no speed, but he doesn't have to be in the lead. He can rate. He can come from behind."

Tyler Baze, the jockey who rode Mast Track to victory at Hollywood Park, has chosen to ride Awesome Gem today. Rafael Bejarano, the leading rider at the Del Mar meeting, has replaced Baze.

Mast Track started off as a promising turf horse, then won two of three races on synthetic surfaces. He responded to the addition of blinkers in the Gold Cup, winning for the fifth time in 10 starts. He showed last weekend he appears to like Del Mar's Polytrack, having recorded a bullet 1:11.40 time for a six-furlong work.

It will be up to Frankel, the Hall of Fame trainer whose horses have won the Pacific Classic six times, to handicap the race and try to figure out the best plan of attack for Mast Track.

There's plenty of competition in the Pacific Classic. Eastern invader Go Between, trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, is the 3-1 morning-line favorite and will have jockey Garrett Gomez in the saddle. Student Council, trained by Steve Asmussen, won last year's Pacific Classic at 23-1 odds and has been working well at Saratoga. The versatile Surf Cat, second-place finisher in the San Diego Handicap, had a 57.60 five-furlong work Tuesday morning for trainer Bruce Headley. Awesome Gem was runner-up in last year's Pacific Classic.

As for what to expect from Mast Track, Ascanio said, "You're always a little nervous, but I'm confident in the horse."

The other major stakes on the schedule today are the Grade III $200,000 Rancho Bernardo Handicap for female sprinters, the Grade II $300,000 Pat O'Brien Handicap for sprinters and the Grade II $400,000 Del Mar Mile on the turf. Midnight Lute, the 2007 Eclipse Award-winning sprinter trained by Bob Baffert, will make his first start of 2008 in the seven-furlong Pat O'Brien.

The Del Mar Mile includes Monzante, winner of the Grade I Eddie Read Handicap, and Daytona, a multiple graded stakes winner with career earnings of $967,690.

The Rancho Bernardo race is headed by the talented Magnificience.

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eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Champions' day

What: $1-million Pacific Classic, $400,000 Del Mar Mile, $300,000 Pat O'Brien Handicap, $200,000 Rancho Bernardo Handicap. There will be 11 races, with stakes run in races seven through 10.

Where: Del Mar.

When: First post is 2 p.m.

TV: ESPN2 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

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