It would be hard to look much better than Accelerate has in his first two starts as a 5-year-old.
After a trouble-filled victory in the Feb. 3 San Pasqual Stakes (G2), Hronis Racing's chestnut son of Lookin At Lucky splashed home to his first top-level win March 10 in the $600,000 Santa Anita Handicap Presented by San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino (G1) at Santa Anita Park.
With an ideal stalking trip behind early leader Mubtaahij, the John Sadler-trained Accelerate took command in the final turn of the 1 1/4-mile test and kicked away from the field to win by 5 1/2 lengths. Accelerate hit the wire in 2:01.83 under jockey Victor Espinoza on a track labeled wet fast (sealed).
"He's had some big races," Sadler said. "He beat Arrogate twice last year, so for him to win a (grade 1) here at Santa Anita, at a mile and a quarter, is huge. We passed up the (grade 1) Pegasus (World Cup) and (the) Dubai (World Cup) to run here at home."
After setting a pace of :23.49, :47.99, and 1:12.32 through six furlongs, Mubtaahij held second by seven lengths over Fear the Cowboy.
"He ran very, very well," said Mubtaahij's jockey, Mike Smith. "The winner was just double-loaded, and I wasn't going to beat him today. It was his turn."
Giant Expectations, who was one of three horses at 5-2 on the tote board, stumbled badly leaving the gate, traveled wide for most of the race, and moved alongside Accelerate in the final bend. But he tired harshly in the stretch to finish fourth, followed by Top of the Game, Prime Attraction, and Curlin Road.
"He broke so sharp," said Giant Expectations' jockey, Corey Nakatani. "The ground broke out from underneath his hind end."
Sadler said an advantage for Accelerate was the stalking position carved out by Espinoza, just to the outside of Mubtaahij.
"Once Victor gets this horse in a spot, we're feeling good all the way around, because we're clear," the trainer said. "You don't want to be the one eating all the mud, so he's nice and clear, and he's tracking. ... We were all sitting there with our fingers crossed and biting our tongue. We don't get a lot of very wet tracks, so it's hard to say if your horse is going to love the surface today."
The Big 'Cap was Accelerate's fourth graded win. Bred in Kentucky by Mike Abraham out of the Awesome Again mare Issues, he now has $1,262,480 in earnings and a 6-4-5 record from 17 starts. He was a $380,000 purchase by L.E.B. out of Bluewater Sales' consignment to the 2014 Keeneland September yearling sale.
"I'm happy for John Sadler (who won his first Santa Anita Handicap). This is a special day for him," said owner Kosta Hronis. "It was great. To win the (Big 'Cap), it's a big deal. He's a local guy. ... This is a very special day for the Hronis family, too. It's special for us to be a part of John's victories. We're his biggest cheerleaders."