On a four-race tear for trainer Donald Warren, multiple grade I winner Acclamation is expected to face seven opponents as the favorite for the $150,000 Clement L. Hirsch Turf Championship (gr. IIT) at Santa Anita Oct. 2.
Five-year-old Acclamation is also entered in the $250,000 Goodwood Stakes (gr. I) on the main track at Santa Anita Oct. 1. But Warren said he expects to keep Bud Johnston's Old English Rancho homebred on the turf. Acclamation, who qualified for the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs after his victory in Del Mar's Pacific Classic (gr. I), is winless in only two starts on a dirt surface.
The 1 1/4-mile Clement Hirsch, the fourth race on Santa Anita's program with a scheduled 2:34 p.m. PDT post, shares top billing on the card with the $250,000 Oak Leaf Stakes (gr. I) for 2-year-old fillies.
Acclamation, who had won but four of 23 starts prior to a his current streak, is probably two races away from becoming a serious Horse of the Year candidate. He has three grade I victories this season.
A son of the prolific sire Unusual Heat, the big bay horse has burst into prominence while capturing the Jim Murray Handicap (gr. IIT) by seven lengths and the Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap (gr. IT) by 3 ½ lengths—both at Hollywood Park—and the Eddie Read Stakes (gr. IT) at Del Mar by 3 ¼, all on turf. Then, over Del Mar’s Polytrack, Acclamation turned back favored Twirling Candy by a head in the $1 million Pacific Classic Aug. 28.
“They’ve been asking me all year how he’s improved so much,” said Warren, who celebrated his 60th birthday Sept. 28. “I just think he’s matured this year into his full potential. It’s that and figuring out what he likes to do. He likes to be out there in front.”
Acclamation led from gate-to-wire in his last three triumphs. Two grade I victories last year, in both the Murray and the Whittingham, had been accomplished in similar style.
Should Acclamation add the Hirsch winner’s share of $90,000 to his career total of $1,538,048, he likely would be supplemented for a fee of $100,000 to become eligible for the Breeders’ Cup. His connections almost certainly would target the Emirates Airline Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) rather than the Classic. And should he take the Turf for his sixth straight graded win while defeating Europe’s strong contingent of grass runners, the California-bred runner would warrant serious Horse of the Year consideration.
Patrick Valenzuela, who will ride Acclamation in the Clement Hirsch, gained the mount in the Pacific Classic after Joel Rosario opted for Twirling Candy. “We were looking for a speed-type rider, and Patrick has always been one of the best in the world at putting a horse on the lead,” said Warren, “so it was kind of a natural fit.”
Acclamation should not encounter any major obstacle to his preferred running style in the Hirsch while carrying high weight of 124 pounds. His most formidable rival, defending Hirsch champion Champ Pegasus, almost stole last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf, but front-running is not his forte. Garrett Gomez will ride Champ Pegasus for the first time.
A 5-year-old son of Fusaichi Pegasus owned and bred in Kentucky by Diamond A Racing and Arturo Vargas, the Richard Mandella trainee has won just over $1 million from a 5-4-1 record in 13 starts. He seemed to peak near the end of last year when victories in the Del Mar Handicap (gr. IIT) and the Hirsch under Rosario paved his way into the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
Rosario found himself on the lead in the Turf at Churchill Downs, passing the half-mile mark in a dawdling :50. Six furlongs went in 1:15 4/5. Champ Pegasus battled on gamely but was unable to turn back victorious Dangerous Midge, who beat him by 1 ¼ lengths.
After winning Santa Anita’s San Luis Obispo (gr. IIT) in February, Champ Pegasus was dispatched to Dubai to compete in the $5 million Dubai Sheema Classic (UAE-I) in March. Rosario went along for the ride, but they were badly beaten while finishing 12th in a field of 14. Off until August, Champ Pegasus prepped for the Hirsch by running fifth in the Del Mar Mile Handicap (gr. IIT) on Aug. 27, finishing two lengths behind victorious Caracortado.
Aside from Acclamation, Brazilian-bred Imponente Purse appears to be in the sharpest form. After winning Hollywood Park’s Sunset Handicap (gr. IIIT) July 17, the Brazilian-bred 5-year-old gelding came up a neck short with a rail rally in the Del Mar Handicap (gr. IIT) Aug. 28. Chantal Sutherland rides the South American import trained by A. C. Avila for Jessica Coudelaria.
Also coming out of the Del Mar Handicap is fourth-place finisher Make Music for Me, trained by Alexis Barba for owners Ellen and Peter O. Johnson Sr.
Robert S. Evans' Dreamy Kid, the only 3-year-old in the field, made his turf debut in the Del Mar Derby (gr. IIT) Sept. 4 with a better-than-looked sixth-place effort. The Swaps Stakes (gr. II) winner, trained by Neil Drysdale, was steadied in traffic and forced five wide late on the far turn before finishing willingly to be beaten by 1 1/2 lengths.
$150,000 Clement L. Hirsch Turf Championship (gr. IIT, Race 4, 2:34 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/4 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Ashtar (CHI), H I Berrios, 121, R Cardenas
2. Imponente Purse (BRZ), C Sutherland, 119, A C Avila
3. Champ Pegasus (KY), G K Gomez, 121, R E Mandella
4. Dreamy Kid (KY), J Rosario, 121, N D Drysdale
5. Dynamic Host (KY), D R Flores, 119, A Sherman
6. Buenos Dias (IRE), B Blanc, 119, R L McAnally
7. Acclamation (CA), P A Valenzuela, 124, D Warren
8. Make Music for Me (KY), J Valdivia Jr., 119, A Barba