Three big Grade 1 stakes on tap today

Del Mar and Saratoga will be the site today for three major Grade 1 stakes races that hold major implications for the Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5-6.

The two biggest races of the day are a pair of million-dollar races on each coast — the Pacific Classic at Del Mar, matching some of the top older handicap horses in the country, and the Travers Stakes, also known as the Mid-Summer Derby, that has attracted some of the top sophomores in America.

First a look at the Pacific Classic.

Five of the 10 entrants can win this 1 1/4-mile race on Del Mar’s synthetic Polytrack surface, including defending champion Richard’s Kid, Awesome Gem, The Usual Q.T., Hold Me Back and Temple City.

Here’s who we like, listed in order of preference:

The Usual Q.T. — Cassidy says Polytrack no problem for turf specialist
Hold Me Back — Mott looking for second Pacific Classic victory in three years
Richard’s Kid — Doesn’t figure to get the fast pace he got last year to set up closing kick
Awesome Gem — Hard-knocking old timer got perfect trip in Hollywood Gold Cup
Temple City — Hard to imagine him getting soft early fractions he got in Cougar II Handicap

The Travers, minus the top 3-year-old in the land in Lookin At Lucky, is still a competitive race with some top horses. Here’s who we like in the 1 1/4-mile event on dirt:

Trappe Shot — Ran second behind Lookin At Lucky in the Haskell
First Dude — Can try to wire the field or sit back and make a run in the stretch
Super Saver — Hasn’t repeated his Kentucky Derby form in past two races

Two races after the Pacific Classic, some of the West’s top sprinters will go postward in the $300,000 Pat O’Brien Stakes at 7 furlongs on Polytrack.

Here’s who we like:

Smiling Tiger — There isn’t a horse in this eight-horse field that can keep up with this guy
Crown of Thorns — BC Sprint runner-up last year will be closing but will have too much ground to make up
El Brujo — Baffert Candy Ride gelding will complete the trifecta

We’ll take a look at Sunday’s Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga tomorrow, a race in which reigning Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra will attempt to negotiate a mile and a quarter for the first time.

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