City of Light gallops at Oaklawn Park

City of Light gallops at Oaklawn Park

Coady Photography

Accelerate, City of Light Face Off in Oaklawn Handicap

Both horses won grade 1 races at Santa Anita March 10.

The West Coast has brought plenty of firepower to the top races during Oaklawn Park's closing weekend.

There's Unique Bella in the Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) and Solomini in the Arkansas Derby (G1), but the April 14 $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) drew two top performers from Southern California.

Hronis Racing's Accelerate and Suzanne and William Warren Jr.'s City of Light both won grade 1 races March 10 at Santa Anita Park, but at different distances, and will meet in the middle Saturday for the 1 1/8-mile Oaklawn Handicap.

Accelerate enters off an impressive 5 1/2-length victory in the 1 1/4-mile Santa Anita Handicap Presented by San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino (G1), his first grade 1 win and second straight graded score, while City of Light won his second straight grade 1 at seven furlongs in the Triple Bend Stakes (G1).

City of Light, a 4-year-old Quality Road  colt trained by Michael McCarthy, was nominated for the 10-furlong Big 'Cap, but his connections opted to stay sprinting. McCarthy also considered shipping to Oaklawn for the Feb. 19 Razorback Handicap (G2), but rainy weather induced a change of plans.

It all worked out as City of Light won the Triple Bend by 1 1/2 lengths, following his breakthrough stakes victory in the Dec. 26 Malibu Stakes (G1). His trainer feels now is the time to stretch him out.

BALAN: City of Light Shines in Triple Bend

"A mile and a quarter was a bit much to ask of him going two turns for the first time," McCarthy said. "This race is an eighth of a mile shorter, obviously, and that played a small part of it. The initial plan was the Razorback, but there was inclement weather. We just felt the time was right to try him at two turns (this weekend)."

The timing would also be good, McCarthy said, to set up a potential run in the June 9 Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap (G1) at Belmont Park.

"The spacing makes sense with what could be his next race, the Met Mile," the trainer said. "We'd like to see how we get along Saturday before we make any plans, but we'll have eight weeks until (the Met Mile), and it's in the back of our minds.

"He's certainly very talented, and he's validated it with two grade 1 wins. He's making his way to being one of the nicest older horses in the country, and we want to let him showcase his talent."

Accelerate has significantly more experience around two turns, with five stakes wins (four graded), and he is two for two in races at 1 1/8 miles. He won the Los Alamitos Derby Stakes (G2) at the distance in 2016 and aced his 2018 debut at nine furlongs in the San Pasqual Stakes (G2) over the likes of grade 3 winner Prime Attraction and grade 1 victor Mubtaahij.

Trainer John Sadler wasn't planning on running Accelerate back so quickly after the Big 'Cap, but he said the 5-year-old son of Lookin At Lucky  made him reconsider.

BALAN: Accelerate Romps in Sloppy Santa Anita Handicap

"He dragged me here," Sadler said. "I was surprised with how well he came out of the Big 'Cap. He just handled the slop so well, came out of it well, and he said, 'I'm ready to go.'"

Accelerate shipped to Arkansas for the Oaklawn Handicap last year, but he came down with a fever and had to be scratched from the race. Sadler said this time around Accelerate is training well at Oaklawn and is healthy.

"He came last year with (Apple Blossom winner) Stellar Wind and caught a temperature," Sadler said. "He'd never had a temperature in his life until he got off the plane last year. It might have been shipping fever or whatever, but it was in his blood work that he had a virus going on. But this year, I feel like we're already ahead of the game, knock wood, because he's doing great."

While City of Light and Accelerate will make their first starts at Oaklawn, others in the 11-horse field are proven at the Hot Springs, Ark., racetrack.

Hawaakom and Hedge Fund are last-out stakes winners at Oaklawn. Longshot Sonneteer earned a stakes win there two starts back, and Malibu Max enters the Oaklawn Handicap off two straight allowance wins in Hot Springs.

Hawaakom, co-owned and trained by Wesley Hawley, took the Razorback on a sloppy track at 9-1 last time out, while Sonneteer finished a far-back 10th. Hedge Fund, a 4-year-old Super Saver  colt trained by Todd Pletcher, earned his first stakes victory in the Essex Handicap at Oaklawn March 17.

BLOODHORSE STAFF: Hawaakom Skims Rail for Upset Razorback Victory

The field also includes two notable 3-year-olds from 2017 looking for a foothold at 4.

Lookin At Lee—the 2017 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) runner-up who also placed in the Southwest (G3), Arkansas Derby, and West Virginia Derby (G3) last year—hasn't won since the 2016 Ellis Park Juvenile Stakes, a span of 13 starts. The Lookin At Lucky colt has made two starts in optional-claiming allowance races this year and has finished fifth and fourth.

Another Kentucky Derby runner (he finished 12th) in the Oaklawn Handicap field is 2017 Oklahoma Derby (G3) winner Untrapped. The 4-year-old Trappe Shot  colt finished fourth in the Razorback and second in the Essex.

Rounding out the field is 2017 West Virginia Derby winner Colonelsdarktemper; Blueridge Traveler, who finished third in the Essex and won the Maxxam Gold Cup Stakes Feb. 24; and 2017 upset Oaklawn Handicap winner Inside Straight, who has won two of his three starts at Turf Paradise this season, including an allowance victory last time out March 3.