Acclamation takes the Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap for the third consecutive year.

Acclamation takes the Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap for the third consecutive year.

Benoit Photo

No Rust for Acclamation in Whittingham Return

Last year's champion older horse wins grade I test in first start since Oct. 2.

Acclamation, last year's champion older horse, made his long-awaited return to action with a front-running one-length victory in the $250,000 Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap (gr. IT) at Betfair Hollywood Park June 9 (VIDEO) .

The 6-year-old son of Unusual Heat wired the Whittingham for the third consecutive year while racing for the first time since capturing the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (gr. IIT) at Santa Anita Park Oct. 2.

Patrick Valenzuela, riding for the first time since May 19, guided the even money favorite Acclamation to victory for trainer Don Warren and owner/breeders Bud and Judy Johnston and co-owners Peter and Mary Hilvers. Acclamation joins the legendary John Henry as the only three-time winner of the Whittingham.

The 49-year-old Valenzuela has been sidelined with weight issues but was able to make Acclamation's 124-pound impost for the Whittingham.

Acclamation won his sixth consecutive race going back to May 2011.

Slim Shadey finished second in the field of five, with Utopian third. The final time was 2:01.50 over firm ground.

Acclamation picked up his fifth lifetime grade I win. Besides his three Whittingham triumphs, the the big bay also won the grade I Eddie Read and Pacific Classic at Del Mar last season. Valenzuela rode Acclamation for the third consecutive time.

They broke on top in this year's Whittingham by 2 1/2 lengths with Barney Rebel second and 13-10 second choice Slim Shadey, a grade 11 winner in February, racing third. Acclamation dictated the pace along the inside under a snug hold from Valenzuela, clipping off easy fractions of :24.89, :49.68, and 1:14.86 while getting little pressure.

Acclamation drifted out a bit in uper stretch before repelling the advance of Slim Shadey and winning under steady encouragement in the final furlong.

Slim Shadey, runner-up in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. IT) May 5 at Churchill Downs, finished second in a grade I for the second time in a row. The British-bred 4-year-old son of Val Royal, ridden by David Flores, was 4 1/4 lengths clear of third-place finisher Utopian. The Inglewood Handicap (gr. IIIT) winner April 27 was ridden by Joe Talamo. Juniper Pass and Barney Rebel followed.

Acclamation's return had been delayed by a couple of minor setbacks and he missed the Inglewood as a result. But he looked good winning for the 10th time in his 29-race career. He earned $150,000 for the victory, boosting his career total to $1,778,048.

“It was kind of a bumpy road getting here, but we made it,’’ said Warren. “He’s been training like he was ready. The setback (that led to the Inglewood scratch) he had didn’t worry me that he would be short because I had another month to work with him.

“We never found out what was wrong. You can guess maybe it was this or maybe it’s that, but it’s nothing you can put your finger on. The ultimate goal is the Breeders’ Cup Turf (Nov. 3 at Santa Anita). We’ll look at the races we ran in last year.

“Who knows, we may even want to look at the (Grade I, $500,000) Hollywood Gold Cup (July 7). I’d like to keep him on turf, though.’’

Valenzuela, who ended a four-month retirement in April, was happy to be back atop the classy bay.

“This is just a tremendous horse,’’ he said. “I feel like Acclamation does, really good. I’ve been working out a lot and doing my cardiovascular work. I feel like he’s going to improve off this race. (Warren) has done a tremendous job bringing him back to where he was at today.’’

Acclamation paid $4, $2.60, and $2.20. Slim Shadey, who received four pounds from the winner, returned $2.60 and $2.10 and was part of a $6.60 exacta. Utopian paid $2.40 to show.

Make Music for Me scratched.