Odds-on choice Acclamation continued his dominance over the Southern California turf division when he held off a determined Champ Pegasus by three-quarters of a length to win the $150,000 Clement L. Hirsch Turf Championship (gr. IIT) at Santa Anita Oct. 2 (VIDEO).
The late-developing 5-year-old California homebred son of Unusual Heat--the pride and joy of Bud and Judy Johnston's Old English Rancho--appears to be on a collision course with the Emirates Airline Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) after he ran his winning streak to five with a victory in the 1 1/4-mile Clement Hirsch.
"He's a very accomplished horse. We're very proud of him," Bud Johnston told HRTV after Acclamation's first victory in five starts on the Santa Anita turf. "We'll see how it shapes up, but right now we're going to the Breeders' Cup."
The Breeders' Cup Classic remains a possibility for Acclamation as well after his victory Aug. 28 in the Pacific Classic (gr. I), a "Win and You're In" race. Trainer Don Warren entered Acclamation in the Goodwood Stakes (gr. I) on dirt Oct. 1 at Santa Anita as well as the Hirsch, but opted for the latter, saying he preferred seeing Acclamation on turf.
“They’re both up in the air," Warren said of his Breeders' Cup options. "It could be the Turf or the Classic. Weather’s going to play a part in it, because we like the firm turf. We think we would have a big shot on firm turf. We don’t think the Europeans are all that great, unless it’s soft. Then they have a big advantage when it’s yielding or soft. . .I would prefer the Breeders’ Turf. If it rains, then we might go Classic. We could go either way depending on the weather."
Johnston will have to pay $100,000 to make his horse eligible for either race.
“(This type of race) is exactly what we wanted five weeks out from the Breeders’ Cup, to have this turf race at a mile and a quarter," Warren said. "I feel now that we’re either ready for the mile-and-a-half Turf or the mile-and-a-quarter Classic.”
Ridden by Patrick Valenzuela, Acclamation took the lead from Make Music for Me leaving the final turn, then dueled with with Champ Pegasus all the way down the lane while refusing to yield his slight advantage. He completed the 10 furlongs in a solid 1:59.45 over firm going.
The winner, who prefers to run on the front end, was taken out of his comfort zone a bit in the Clement Hirsch when Make Music for Me, breaking on the far outside, pulled his way to the front. Make Music for Me cleared the field while cutting in front of Acclamation going through the stretch for the first time to show the way through even fractions of :24.16, :48.47, and 1:12.58.
Rounding the final bend, Acclamation, on the leader's outside, could wait no longer and emerged with the lead heading into the stretch. Champ Pegasus, three wide for Garrett Gomez, was right there coming out of the turn, however. But while he dug deep, Champ Pegasus could not make an impact on Acclamation, who inched to a one-length advantage at mid-stretch under some urging from Valenzuela and won with the whip down under good handling.
“This win feels great," said Valenzuela, who rode Acclamation for the first time in the Pacific Classic. "This horse has done everything I asked him to do, and he’s done a lot in the past for other jockeys. He’s just a great, great horse who just gives it his all and lays it out on the racetrack.”
Champ Pegasus finished 3 1/2 lengths in front of the show horse, the closing Brazilian-bred gelding Imponente Purse, ridden by Chantal Sutherland.
"Acclamation is really good right now," Gomez said. "He’s got a lot of confidence. We’ve got to get this horse (Champ Pegasus) on the winning track again and I can see us flip-flopping in placings. I was excited with the way he ran.”
Warren said that he and Valenzuela were prepared for Champ Pegasus or Make Music for Me taking the early lead.
“It’s very nice to see (Acclamation) lay second or third like that and then go on and win and then come in :23-something the last quarter. At the top of the stretch, I thought this was going to be a horse race like it was in the Pacific Classic but we held him off. With about a sixteenth to go, I said, ‘They can’t catch him. They can’t go by him.’”
Acclamation began his impressive win streak with victories on the Hollywood Park turf last spring in the Jim Murray Memorial (gr. IIT) and Charles Whittingham Memorial (gr. IT) handicaps by a combined 10 1/2 lengths. He took his show to Del Mar next, capturing the Eddie Read Stakes (gr. IT) by 3 1/4 lengths before turning back highly regarded Twirling Candy by a head in the Pacific Classic.
His career record now stands at 9-2-6 in 28 starts with earnings of $1,628,048. The bay horse, out of the Silveyville mare Winning in Style, is owned in partnership by the Johnstons with Peter and Mary Hilvers.
Carrying top weight of 124 pounds, Acclamation paid $2.80, $2.20, $2.10.
Champ Pegasus, second in last year's Breeder's Cup Turf for trainer Richard Mandella, appears to be rounding back into form for a possible return to Churchill Downs next month. He returned $2.80 and $2.10 as the 5-2 second choice and completed a $5.40 exacta.
“The winner was just too much but my horse was trying him hard," Mandella said. "Maybe with another race in him, I’ll rise to that level next time. We’ll take serious thought about the Breeders’ Cup Turf.”
Imponente Purse, coming off a third-place finish in the Del Mar Handicap (gr. IIT) Aug. 28, paid $2.20.
Chilean-bred Ashtar was 1 1/2 lengths farther back in fourth. He was followed by Dynamic Host, Make Music for Me, and Buenos Dias. Dreamy Kid scratched.