City of Light (outside) edges Accelerate by a neck to win the Oaklawn Handicap at Oaklawn Park

City of Light (outside) edges Accelerate by a neck to win the Oaklawn Handicap at Oaklawn Park

Coady Photography

City of Light Edges Accelerate in Oaklawn Handicap

Grade 1 winners from the West Coast dueled to the wire at Oaklawn Park.

The West Coast invaders were in a race of their own when they entered the stretch in the $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) April 14 at Oaklawn Park.

At the quarter pole in the 1 1/8-mile test, grade 1 winners City of Light and Accelerate had already blown away a large field of challengers.

Mr. and Mrs. William Warren's City of Light, the last-out Triple Bend Stakes (G1) winner who had made a four-wide move just behind Hronis Racing's Santa Anita Handicap Presented by San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino (G1) victor Accelerate, put his neck in front as they turned for home, but his rival was not done.

A half-length in front under jockey Drayden Van Dyke with a furlong to run, City of Light could not shake Accelerate, who dug in on the rail under jockey Victor Espinoza but could only cut the margin to a neck at the wire.

"Drayden was able to dictate his trip," said winning trainer Michael McCarthy. "He was loaded at the half-mile pole. At the time I was nervous, because you worry if they are going to show up after the running starts, but when they got to the quarter pole and Drayden hadn't moved his hands, I had the utmost confidence in my horse."

In his first start around two turns, City of Light earned his third straight graded score and finished the distance in 1:48.26. Grade 3 winner Untrapped came in third, another 10 lengths back.

"He broke sharp and put me in a good spot," Van Dyke said. "Down the backside, he was completely loaded, and (I) had a lot of horse the entire way. Just had to wait for the home stretch to let him loose, and he did the rest himself. He's a talented horse, and (I'm) glad I could sit on him."

The two horses based in Southern California immediately had to overcome an obstacle with the outside positions (Accelerate was in post 10 and City of Light was the farthest outside in the field of 11), and Accelerate delayed the start by refusing to enter the gate.

But by the time they reached the backstretch as Untrapped set fractions of :22.97, :46.63, and 1:11.53 through six furlongs, the pair were comfortably tracking the leaders. Accelerate stalked in third while City of Light was wider in fourth, another length back.

"He ran good. It set up like I wanted," Espinoza said. "He didn't want to load but broke sharp, and I was tracking the leaders. I just couldn't keep up with the winner. He tried to come back pretty good, but I just ran out of room."

Accelerate's trainer, John Sadler, also pointed out that the 5-year-old son of Lookin At Lucky  carried three more pounds than his younger rival, a 4-year-old colt by Quality Road .

"First time out of town, and I thought he ran a great race," Sadler said. "I was pleased. Remember, it was a handicap, and we were giving away the weight."

McCarthy indicated earlier in the week that the Oaklawn Handicap could serve as City of Light's steppingstone for the June 9 Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap (G1) at Belmont Park, and he reinforced that after the race Saturday.

"We'll enjoy this—certainly for today," McCarthy said. "Two months from now we've got the Met Mile, which has been in the back of our minds. That might be the next logical step. The Breeders' Cup at the end of the year is our main goal."

After Untrapped came Sonneteer in fourth, followed by Lookin At Lee, Malibu Max, Hawaakom, Colonelsdarktemper, Blueridge Traveler, and Hedge Fund to complete the order of finish. Inside Straight, last year's Oaklawn Handicap winner, refused to leave the gate at the start.

Bred in Kentucky by Ann Marie Farm, out of the Dehere mare Paris Notion, City of Light has four wins and three seconds from seven starts, with $940,600 in earnings. He was a $710,000 purchase in 2015 from the Lane's End consignment to the Keeneland September yearling sale.

Video: Oaklawn H. (G2)