Acclamation, with a patented front-running ride from veteran jockey Patrick Valenzuela, held off favored Twirling Candy in the final furlong to win the $1 million TVG Pacific Classic (gr. I) (VIDEO) by a head before 29,267 at Del Mar Aug. 28.
It was the second win in the Pacific Classic for the 48-year-old Valenzuela, whose first win came with another California-bred horse, Best Pal, in the inaugural running of the race in 1991.
Winning for the first time in seven starts on a synthetic track, Acclamation picked up his third consecutive grade I victory and fourth successive win overall for trainer Don Warren.
Acclamation is raced by his California breeders, Bud and Judy Johnston of Old English Rancho, in partnership with Peter and Mary Hilvers. Warren has been the trainer for the Old English Rancho operation for 33 years.
The 5-year-old son of Unusual Heat ran the 1 1/4-mile distance in 2:00.61, a Polytrack record at Del Mar. Valenzuela waved his right-handed whip in his horse's eyes until the finish line while giving Acclamation a spirited hand ride, then pumped his right arm in the air as they galloped out afterward.
“He broke alertly for me and I wanted the lead. He took me there and I was able to slow it down," Valenzuela said. "They came to me at the five-eighths (pole) but I let him run and he was fine with it. At the sixteenth (pole) Twirling Candy came to me and had every right in the world to run by. But my horse stuck his neck out and fought the battle. He wouldn’t let him by.
“I am so blessed to have this. I am so blessed and grateful and thankful.”
Twirling Candy, ridden by Joel Rosario, was four lengths clear of third-place finisher Stately Victor.
Warren selected Valenzuela to replace Rosario, who rode Acclamation to victory in the Eddie Read Stakes (gr. IT) at Del Mar July 23.
“We were looking for a speed type rider and he’s always been one of the best in the world at putting a horse on the lead, so it was kind of a natural fit," he said.
With the win, Acclamation earns a spot in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) this November at Churchill Downs. However, in order to start his connections would have to pay $100,000 to nominate him.
Acclamation, as expected, went to the front soon out of the chute at odds of 4-1 and led second choice Game On Dude down the stretch the first time as Twirling Candy and Tres Borrachos tracked in third and fourth, respectively.
There was no change in that order as Valenzuela slowed the pace to a crawl, clicking off the opening quarter-mile in :24.57, the half in :48.65, and six furlongs in 1:12.88. The first three separated themselves from the rest of the field as Tres Borrachos fell back rounding the final bend.
As the leaders made their way into the stretch, Valenzuela floated Acclamation out and he inched away from Game On Dude, who came under pressure from Chantal Sutherland to keep up. Twirling Candy drew closer for Rosario, and by the time they reached the furlong pole, it was down to a two-horse race.
Twirling Candy rallied furiously on the outside, but could not get past Acclamation as they hit the wire with Acclamation maintaining a slight advantage.
“I thought it was excellent," Warren said. "(Valenzuela) nursed the horse along just like we wanted him to, a length or two in front and was able to save enough to hold off any horse that made a run at him."
Stately Victor, ridden by Mike Smith, was the only come-from-behind horse in the field making up any ground behind the slow pace. He nipped the weakening Game On Dude by a nose for third.
Since this spring Acclamation has reeled off consecutive stakes wins in the Jim Murray (gr. IIT) and Charles Whittingham (gr. IT) at Hollywood Park, and the Eddie Read at Del Mar, all on the turf.
Twirling Candy, considered one of the top handicap horses in the nation, is now winless at the 1 1/4-mile distance in three tries. His connections were hoping he would emulate his sire, Candy Ride, who won the 2003 Pacific Classic in track-record time.
"He gave me everything he had," a dejected Rosario said. "My horse was nice and relaxed, but (Acclamation) was too much today."
Acclamation, who became the sixth California-bred horse to win the Pacific Classic, earned $600,000 for the win. Out of the Silveyville mare Winning in Style, the bay horse has compiled an 8-2-6 mark in 27 races while banking $1,538,048.
Under equal weight of 124 pounds, Acclamation paid $10.80, $5.40, and $5 as the third choice in the field of nine. Twirling Candy, coming off a neck defeat when third in the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) July 9 for trainer John Sadler, returned $4 and $3.40. The exacta was worth $42.20. Stately Victor, sent off at 15-1 odds off his third-place finish in the Dominion Day Stakes (Can-III) at Woodbine July 1, paid $7 to show.
Game On Dude was followed home by Quindici Man, Tres Borrachos, Don Cavallo, Jeranimo, and Setsuko. Bourbon Bay, who ran second in the Del Mar Handicap (gr. IIT) earlier on the card over the turf, and Great Warrior were scratched.