There is an art to winning the big events. In stick and ball sports they call it clutch. Whether it be nailing a three at the buzzer, launching a dinger in the bottom of the ninth, or making a tackle at the two yard line, there is something to be said for performing when it counts. The same is true for grade 1 races in the Thoroughbred racing game. Always “big”, the competition is usually the toughest in these events. Coming through with a big performance can be considered more than clutch.
During the modern era of Thoroughbred racing, no one has been better at getting horses ready for the big ones than Bob Baffert. Sporting a sterling resume, this hall of famer has been cooler than a cucumber when it comes to facing down the competition. No matter the venue, this Southern California based conditioner is always known to bring it with his entrants.
The 2023 Pacific Classic has long been a jewel in the sport. Run at historic Del Mar since 1991, Baffert came into the event tied for the record for most wins. Arabian Knight seemed to be an interesting entrant as a lightly raced three-year-old with only three career starts. Lining up against a salty field of older horses and another blossoming three-year-old in Geaux Rocket Ride, to say there was a little head-scratching about the Knight’s chances was obvious.
Enlisting the services of jockey Flavien Prat and with some sterling workouts coming in, the thinking horseplayer knew if Bob Baffert was bringing him, there absolutely was a chance. Then the gates opened and folks found out.
Breaking alertly from post 9, Prat sent this son of Uncle Mo straight to the lead. Rolling through solid early fractions (23.55 opening quarter mile, 46.60 half mile) just ahead of a pressing Piroli, the Knight was right as he rolled down the back stretch. Entering the top of the stretch, Baffert’s charge fended off veteran Slow Down Andy and looked to be full of fitness. With an eighth of a mile remaining and the wire in sight Geaux Rocket Ride came with a run. Responding to the challenge, Arabian Knight dug in and held on by a neck.
“We always thought he had talent”, says Baffert. “His last run in the Haskell did not work out the way we wanted, but his recent works were really good and we thought he was fit enough for us to roll the dice. We are very proud of his effort and we are happy the wire came.”
The Pacific Classic win was a record setting seventh victory in Del Mar’s signature event for Big Race Bob Baffert and also extended his Stakes win total at the Seaside Oval to an all-time high of 162.