Just four rivals are up to the challenge of taking on defending champion Acclamation in the $300,000 Eddie Read Stakes (gr. IT), the first grade I event of the year at Del Mar July 21.
Acclamation, the defending Eclipse champion as older horse, handily defeated a similar field in his 2012 debut in the Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap (gr. IT) June 9 at Betfair Hollywood Park. The runner-up in that race, Slim Shadey, once again poses the biggest challenge to the 6-year-old Acclamation.
The Eddie Read, at 1 1/8 miles on turf, is carded as race 3 on the Del Mar program with a 3 p.m. PDT probable post.
Slim Shadey, an English-bred 4-year-old gelding, stalked Acclamation in vain in the 10-furlong Whittingham, making up a little bit of ground on the front-runner in the final furlong to finish one length behind. Like the Eddie Read, just five contested the Whittingham.
The Simon Callaghan-trained Slim Shadey has had one start since the Whittingham, finishing fifth in the United Nations at Monmouth Park July 7 in New Jersey. He'll return on just 11 days' rest, but Callaghan is taking a shot because of the short field.
"Things didn’t work out at Monmouth," Callaghan said. "He broke slow, didn’t really get into the race, and it was a speed-favoring track that day. But he came out of that race well."
Owned by Phill Cunningham, Slim Shadey won the San Marcos Stakes (gr. IIT) at Santa Anita Park in February in his third United States start after transferring from England for the 2012 season. The son of Val Royal then recorded three successive runner-up finishes in Santa Anita's San Luis Rey (gr. IIT), the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. IT) at Churchill Downs, and the Whittingham prior to the United Nations.
“Acclamation, we all know, is a very good horse and we understand that he’s going to be hard to beat," Callaghan said. "But there’s not that much between them and we’re going to give it a shot.”
Garrett Gomez will replace David Flores on Slim Shadey, who carries 122 pounds, one less than Acclamation.
Acclamation, owned by his breeders Judy and Bud Johnston in partnership with Peter and Mary Hilvers, won last year's Eddie Read in front-running style by 3 1/4 lengths while ridden out. He then showed his versatility by winning Del Mar's Pacific Classic (gr. I) a month later on Polytrack while employing the same front-running tactics.
A suspected foot problem this year gave cause for concern and delayed Acclamation's start, but trainer Don Warren said, "I think those issues seem to be behind him."
"We couldn't figure out what it was and then we did some corrective shoeing on him after we scratched out of the Inglewood Handicap (gr. IIIT)," Warren said. "We did some pretty major corrective shoeing and boy, since then, he's just done wonderful and I haven't had to worry about him one bit. Every workout is good, no problems coming back and I hope that issue, whatever it was, is behind us."
Patrick Valenzuela, whom Warren feels matches Acclamation's running style perfectly, retains the mount.
Acclamation, after winning just two of his first 17 lifetime races, has now won eight of his past 12, including the Whittingham three times. The California-bred son of Unusual Heat has now earned nearly $1.8 million in his career.
Warren said the turnaround on Acclamation came when they quit using the whip in 2010 and decided to allow him to run freely.
"That's what we wanted him to do and, boy, the light has been on ever since," he said.
Rounding out the Eddie Read are Casino Host, now in the barn of Ron Ellis, Hog's Hollow, and the Argentine-bred Interaction.
Gary and Mary West's Casino Host, previously trained by Chad Brown, won the Mervin H. Muniz Jr. Memorial Handicap (gr. IIT) at Fair Grounds Race Coures & Slots April 1. The 4-year-old son of Dynaformer ran seventh in the Colonial Cup June 16.
Interaction, trained by Ron McAnally, won a high-priced optional claiming allowance at nine furlongs on the Hollywood turf June 16 in his only start this year. He was a two-time grade I winner in his native country.
Hog's Hollow, third in the San Luis Rey for trainer Paddy Gallagher, ran fifth behind Interaction in the June 16 race.
$300,000 Eddie Read Stakes (gr. IT, Race 3, 3 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Hog's Hollow (KY), R Bejarano, 119, P Gallagher
2. Interaction (ARG), B Blanc, 119, R L McAnally
3. Acclamation (CA), P A Valenzuela, 123, D Warren
4. Casino Host (KY), J Talamo, 121, R W Ellis
5. Slim Shadey (GB), G K Gomez, 122, S Callaghan