Farraaj: runs in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar for Roger VarianPICTURE: Mark Cranham (racingpost.com/photos)
Farraaj takes on Dude at Del Mar in Pacific Classic
Preview: USA, Sunday 1.10am Mon BST
Del Mar: Pacific Classic (Grade 1) 1m2f, AW, 3yo+
WINTER Derby winner Farraaj (Roger Varian/Garrett Gomez) is chasing the winner's share of a $1 million pot on Sunday at Del Mar when he takes on the best of the west-coast brigade in the Pacific Classic.
Sheikh Ahmed's four-year-old, third to Wrote in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf a couple of years ago, hasn't run since a lacklustre effort on soft ground in the Sandown Mile in April. The Polytrack surface should be right up his street, given that he also won the Listed Churchill Stakes at Lingfield in November.
Farraaj breaks from gate four in a 13-runner field for Del Mar's signature event, which represents the culmination of a long-term plan for trainer Roger Varian. On the downside, his stable is under a cloud at present with several horses coughing.
Varian said: "Farraaj travelled well and seems in good form. Garrett Gomez rode him on Thursday and was happy.
"Ten furlongs on a synthetic track is right up his street and hopefully he goes there with a decent chance. It is exciting to have a runner in a race like this."
Heading the home team will be six-time Grade 1 winner Game On Dude (Bob Baffert), whose trainer will be hoping it's a case of third time lucky as California's leading racehorse bids to plug a notable omission in his cv in the Pacific Classic.
The popular six-year-old, unbeaten in five starts since last year's Breeders' Cup Classic, was fourth in 2010 before a half-length defeat at the hands of Dullahan 12 months ago in this race.
America's top rider Joel Rosario is due to fly in to partner Game On Dude, whose regular partner Mike Smith jets in the opposite direction to ride superstar mare Royal Delta at Saratoga. However, Rosario broke his left foot in a fall at Saratoga on Friday, leaving his status uncertain.
Although Game On Dude has never been at home on the Del Mar Polytrack, his trainer says he has been "moving really well over it" in morning workouts. "I'm very confident that he's sitting on a big race," added Baffert.
All-weather specialist Dullahan (Dale Romans/Rafael Bejarano) has gone 12 months without winning since taking this as a three-year-old in 2012.
Other leading fancies include leading turf performer Jeranimo (Mike Pender/Corey Nakatani), San Diego Handicap winner Kettle Corn (John Sadler/Victor Espinoza) and eight-year-old Richard's Kid (Doug O'Neill/Joe Talamo), who won the Pacific Classic in both 2009 and 2010 for Baffert and Smith.
Former British-trained filly Byrama (Simon Callaghan/Gary Stevens) won the Grade 1 Vanity but is in deeper water here.
Also on Sunday
Del Mar: Del Mar Mile (Grade 2 hcap) 1m, turf, 3yo+ (11.10pm BST)
Breeders' Cup Mile third Obviously (Mike Mitchell/Joe Talamo) towers over this field and looks sure to start odds-on, despite conceding at least 6lb to his four rivals as he bids to complete back-to-back successes. The five-year-old, who has won five times at this trip, is on a hat-trick this term after a pair of wins at Hollywood.
Del Mar: Pat O'Brien Stakes (Grade 2) 7f, AW, 3yo+ (Sun 12.10am BST)
Joel Rosario is due to take over from Kevin Krigger on Santa Anita Derby winner Goldencents (Doug O'Neill), beaten just a head on his return to sprinting a month ago in the Grade 1 Bing Crosby Stakes.
Despite lesser Graded status, this $250,000 event hardly looks any easier with a 13-runner field also featuring a strong Bob Baffert pair in Fed Biz (Martin Garcia) and Drill (Rafael Bejarano) plus Morning Line (John Shirreffs/Julien Leparoux), a Grade 1 winner on the comeback trail.