Horse Racing Sensation Flightline Leads TVG Pacific Classic Field at Del Mar

The Del Mar horse betting slate this weekend features the centerpiece of the entire meet at Del Mar Racetrack.

On Saturday, the $1 Million TVG Pacific Classic will be run on the historic racetrack outside San Diego. The 32nd running of the Classic is the flagship event of the Del Mar meet, the biggest event of the day in all of horse racing and one of the industry’s most significant races of the year.

The Classic has a 5:30 p.m. post time and is Race 10 on an 11-race program starting at 1 p.m.

In the big race, California bettors will have to decide whether they can make money with Flightline, the headliner and favorite, or simply savor the talent of this undefeated 4-year-old.

If betting options don’t exist there,  gamblers have a bevy of choices throughout a  star-studded card. Here are the major events for Saturday and Sunday.

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Sept. 3

  • TVG Pacific Classic $1 million
  • Del Mar Mile $300,000
  • Del Mar Handicap $300,000
  • Caesars Sportsbook Del Mar Derby $300,000

Sept. 4

  • Green Flash Handicap $150,000

The second mandatory Pick 6 payout also awaits on Saturday. It won’t be big, as the carryover was just shy of $46,000 heading into the weekend, but bettors like to play it. The 20-cent Pick 6 wager involves picking the winner of the final six races.

Del Mar’s Pick 6 will pay out 70% of the pool each day to those with the most winners, with the remaining 30% carried over, provided there are no single-ticket winners. A single-ticket winner on any day takes home the entire prize.

And on mandatory pay out day, the entire pot is distributed.

Gamblers across the US have access to all of this via the TVG app (recently re-branded as FanDuel TV).

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TVG Pacific Classic

While the betting lines cut across several different events, the main storyline concerns Flightline in the Classic.

Flightline was made an off-the-charts 1-to-5 favorite in Tuesday’s draw and has shown no reason not to be made prohibitive. He has been dominant. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see if he measures up to expectations in going 1 1/4 miles for the first time.

The race favorite is 4-for-4 and looks more impressive with each challenge.

He tries to secure a trip to the Breeders’ Cup, as this Classic is a “Win and You’re In” berth in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic Nov. 5 at Keeneland in Kentucky.

Breeders’ Cup berths also await the winners of the Del Mar Handicap and Green Flash Handicap on Sunday.

Here’s the field for the Pacific Classic.

HorseTrainerJockeyOdds
1. Extra HopeRichard MandellaTyler Baze30-to-1
2. Country GrammerBob BaffertJohn Velazquez4-to-1
3. Royal ShipRichard MandellaMike Smith8-to-1
4. Express TrainJohn ShirreffsVictor Espinoza12-to-1
5. FlightlineJohn SadlerFlavien Prat1-to-5
6. Stilleto BoyEd MogerJuan Hernandez20-to-1

Odds won’t become official until post time, in accordance with pari-mutuel regulations.

Let’s look at the entries.

Extra Hope (30-to-1)

The long odds reflect him being unable to defeat Royal Ship and Express Train in previous races. He did run a good third at the Cougar Stakes and completed 1 1/2 miles.

The drop-back angle bodes well for a horse that’s never run exactly 1 1/4 miles. Nonetheless, other horses in this field have already beaten him.

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Country Grammer (4-to-1)

The last time we wrote about him, he was the toast of horse racing, fresh off the $12 million Dubai World Cup victory. He beat Hot Rod Charlie and Life Is Good, two elite horses, in that effort.

There was nothing wrong with his turn back to California to run in the San Diego Handicap here last month. But the oddsmakers knew something. They made him a 2-to-1 favorite, not a heavier even money or 4-to-5.

The oddsmakers knew something. He ran hard but an opportunistic Royal Ship clearly beat him. He now gets a rematch with Royal Ship here, but are they fighting for second?

Royal Ship (8-to-1)

That was a real strong effort in the San Diego Handicap. He paid exceedingly well at 9-to-1, stalking the pace set by Stilleto Boy and outrunning Country Grammer down the lane.

He’s never run 1 1/4 miles. Normally, that’s a concern. But when he won the San Diego, he looked capable of easily stretching out.

May be on an uptick.

Express Train (12-to-1)

Another contender in the best-of-California category. That would matter if Flightline is not the horse. Has two wins in three starts this year. Enjoyed a victory in the San Pasqual Stakes and captured the Santa Anita Handicap at this distance, 1 1/4 miles.

Beaten by Stilleto Boy in the Californian Stakes. Was in position at the top of the lane, but Stilleto Boy would not let him by.

Flightline (1-to-5)

The industry is marveling at him. Flightline continually steps up in distance and class, improving each time.

He ran the Met Mile field off its feet after breaking sluggishly from the gate and not getting the lead. Had a sizzling six-furlong time of 1:08.54 and then pulled away after that.

He boasts a win at Del Mar and looks to be the one on the lead. Remains to be seen whether or not he’s peppered by Stilleto Boy.

After this race, observers will either believe they saw him on his way up to greatness, or that Del Mar, again, proved to be the track that can thwart favorites.

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Stilleto Boy (20-to-1)

Gave a good honest effort in the San Diego Handicap, finishing a distant third to Royal Ship. Forwardly placed and in good position coming around the turn, but just didn’t have enough.

Did turn the tables on Express Train, one of the better horses in this race. After Express Train beat him in the Santa Anita Handicap, Stilleto Boy toppled him in the Californian. He has three respectable efforts at 1 1/4 miles, including fifth at this surface in the Breeders’ Cup Classic won by Knicks Go. Can’t seem to get past Royal Ship. Has another chance.

Hallowed Ground: Can Flightline Join Pacific Classic Greats?

The TVG Pacific Classic is a summit of excellence.

No less than six participants in this race were inducted into the Horse Racing Hall of Fame. And three didn’t even win this event.

Beholder (2016 winner) is the most recent graduate. He joined Lava Man (2007) and Best Pal (1994) as horses able to use the Pacific Classic as a springboard to the Hall of Fame.

Some of the greats could not get it done here, illustrating the elite nature of the race. Paseana was unable to win the Classic in 1992. Tiznow, a two-time Breeders’ Cup champion, could not bring home this prize in 2000.

And perhaps the most famous denial involves Cigar. The heartthrob of American horse racing fans won an incredible 16 consecutive races from 1994-96. He gained national acclaim by winning all over the map. That included Aqueduct in New York, Gulfstream Park in Florida, Suffolk in Massachusetts, Hollywood Park right here in California, Belmont Park in New York, and Arlington Park in Illinois.

Along the way, he put Dubai on the map. Cigar won the first ever Dubai World Cup in 1996. Country Grammer, en route to this race, won the last one, in March.

Guess where Cigar’s streak of the ages ended? Right here at Del Mar, in the 1996 Classic.

The legacy of any horse is enhanced by a big effort here.

About the Author

Dave Bontempo

Dave Bontempo is a writer for California Casinos, and has covered the horse racing and boxing industry extensively since the 1980s. He was an award-winning writer at the Press of Atlantic City. As a broadcaster, he has won the Sam Taub Award for Excellence in Boxing Broadcasting, issued by the Boxing Writers Association of America. He has called major fights for HBO, ESPN, Showtime, and other networks since the 1980s. He is in the New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame. Dave shifted gears to cover the emerging legalized sports-betting industry in 2018.