Races like this just don't happen anymore. Not outside of the Breeders' Cup, anyway. The three best older horses in the country right now are, in some order, Beholder, California Chrome and Dortmund. It's not tough to make that argument. It kind of makes itself, really - only Frosted could really enter into the conversation. We are going to see all three in the Pacific Classic. In August. Incredible. Almost impossible. We have been talking about this possibility for months now, but this is horse racing, so it seemed almost certain that something would happen to stop it from happening. Entries are in, though, and so far all systems are go. And what makes it even more incredible is that even without them this would be a respectable Pacific Classic field - not the best ever by any means, but better than some. What a race. Here's how the best edition of the Pacific Classic we have ever seen sets up (odds are the track morning line):
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California Chrome (8/5): It has taken me a very long time to warm up to this horse, but he has my full respect now. I was never a believer in him during his Triple Crown attempt - I bet against him the whole way, though it took me three times to be right. I was very negative about his return to action in the Pennsylvania Derby when he finished sixth, and I didn't have a good thing to say about him heading into the Breeders' Cup Classic. His four year old season was such a moronic example of equine mismanagement that I almost pitied him - even a horse I had issues with didn't deserve to be handled by idiots. It seemed like the horse was careening towards a dismal end to a grand career. But then this year happened. I was, as was my habit, very skeptical about him heading into the Dubai World Cup. I shouldn't have been - his win was beyond spectacular. Then he returned to action in the San Diego Handicap, beating Dortmund in one of the best races we have seen all year. He has won me over. I respect him now. That being said, I won't pick him here. The price is low, and drawing the rail in a race this strong when he would like to be in touch with the early pace is a concern. I will bet against him, but I'll be braced to be wrong.
Dortmund (5/2): This horse had the poor luck, as a three year old, of being the stablemate of American Pharoah. In most years he would have been by far the best horse in the Kentucky Derby. He was a freak. American Pharoah was the best horse in decades, though, so the timing was poor. Pharoah is enjoying his new career as a stallion now, though, so it is time for Dortmund to get his due. He had a long layoff after the Triple Crown, then he came back to win two nice races against older horses last fall. He had foot issues early this year, and the San Diego Handicap was his first start of the year. A horse can't look better in defeat than he did there, and that was off a long layoff. I'm a little concerned about this distance for this horse, but he has trained well, and trainer Bob Baffert has won this race four times, including three of the last seven years, so he should be well prepared. I think we are going to see big things from Dortmund here.
Beholder (3/1): This is an extremely special horse. She was the first mare to win this race when she pulled it off last year. She was headed for a showdown with American Pharoah in the Breeders' Cup Classic that may have been the greatest thing we've ever seen in horse racing, but she bled in her lungs during training for that race and earned a break. She came back to the track after a layoff in May and won easily. Then she beat reigning three year old champ Stellar Wind in the Vanity Mile. Two races, two impressive wins - it seemed as if she hadn't skipped a beat. But then came the Clement L. Hirsch and a rematch with Stellar Wind. This time the younger horse came out on top. Losing to a horse that good isn't a major concern, but Beholder looked flat. Mortal. That race is the reason she is the third choice here. Was it just a bad day? Or is something bigger going on? She eased some concerns with a truly stellar work this week, but we won't know where she is at until race time. If you are a believer, though, this is a much better price than you usually get with this horse.
Hoppertunity (8/1): There are some very nice horses beyond the big three, and Hoppertunity is the best of that group. He was a decent third in the Dubai World Cup behind California Chrome this spring, and the five year old - another Baffert trainee in the field - has had several nice efforts over the last couple of years. What I like best about the horse here, though, is the running style. The three favorites all like to be in contact with the leaders early on. That means we could see a decent early pace. Hoppertunity likes to come from off the pace, and that works best when there is a strong pace to chase. If things get a little crazy up front he could really benefit. He is worth a look at this price - especially in exotics.
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