When legendary crooner Bing Crosby opened Del Mar and belted out those famous lyrics in the track’s theme song did he have current California trainer John Shirreffs in mind?
Back in 1937, Bing had no idea that a horse whispering guy like John Shirreffs would be bringing a contender to the Seaside Oval’s signature race in 2021. As it turns out, however, the “Where the turf meets the surf at old Del Mar, take a plane, take a train, take a car” fits the veteran conditioner to a tee. For you see, Shirreffs will be taking a Train to the Pacific Classic on August 21.
Express Train comes into this mile and quarter drive over the Del Mar dirt in fantastic shape. This son of Union Rags has given Shirreffs plenty of reasons to be optimistic as he prepares for a start in this Breeders’ Cup Classic win and you are in race.
“He has been working really well and always seems to show up on race day”, says Shirreffs. “Every time out he has turned in solid efforts and he seems to like it here at Del Mar.”
The Train has in fact performed very will at Del Mar. In 12 lifetime starts, this grandson of Mineshaft has won four races, finished second four times, and third twice. At this particular piece of heaven on earth, Express Train has three wins and a second place finish in four starts.
His last start came in the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar on July 17 of this year. That mile and a sixteenth journey saw a pace-stalking trip turn into a determined stretch drive in which Shirreff’s Train simply refused to be de-railed. Digging deep when challenged by both Royal Ship and Tripoli (also both entrants in the Pacific Classic), Express Train finished a widening half-length in front of his challengers that day.
The grade 2 win on Del Mar’s opening weekend was a classic demonstration of the talents of this Shirreffs stable star.
“He is a horse that has speed and can carry it over longer distances”, says Shirreffs, who conditioned the magnificent Zenyatta. “I think the really good news about him is he can also be very tactical with his speed. That means if things don’t necessarily go according to plan early he can still win.”
A field of nine is entered for the Pacific Classic and includes some West Coast Challengers and East Coast shipper Dr. Post for trainer Todd Pletcher. Made the morning line favorite at 3-1, the four-year old Train rolls in as perhaps the horse to beat for a trainer that is looking for his first win in this grade 1 million dollar race.
“I think his record speaks for itself, especially at this track”, says the Zen master. “He ran very well in finishing second at this distance earlier in the year in the Santa Anita Handicap. (Jockey) Juan (Hernandez) may have hit the gas a little too early in that one, but he knows the horse better now and gets the leg up here. He is a very striking horse and we are happy with how he is coming into the race. We didn’t take the Train to Del Mar, the Train has taken us.”
The Pacific Classic headlines a card that will feature five graded stakes races with a total of eleven scheduled. The post position and morning line is as follows: 1) Tripoli 5-1, 2) Tizamagician 5-1, 3) Dr.Post 4-1, 4) Royal Ship 7-2, 5) Express Train 3-1. 6) Magic On Tap 20-1, 7) Independence Hall 5-1, 8) Sheriff Brown 30-1, 9) Cupid’s Claws 15-1 .