- Owner / Hronis Racing LLC
- Breeder / Mike Abraham
- Owner / Reddam Racing LLC
- Breeder / K.C. Garrett Farm LLC
- Owner / Michael Lund Petersen
- Breeder / Gulf Coast Farms, LLC
- Owner / Juddmonte Farms, Inc.
- Breeder / Clearsky Farms
It wasn’t clear if it was a joke or not. It had to be.
As he exited the walking ring and headed toward the track July 22, trainer John Sadler was asked if he was going to shock the world with Hronis Racing’s Accelerate in the $300,000, Grade 2 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar. To do so, he would have to take down the top-rated racehorse in the world — Arrogate.
“I don’t know,” Sadler said. “We made it pretty tough on Zenyatta. It’s closer than you think.”
As Accelerate crossed the finish line, it wasn’t close at all, but not in the manner that was expected. Accelerate went straight to the front, set the pace, and blew the field away to win by 8 1/2 lengths. Arrogate, who trailed the five-horse field early, came in fourth — 15 1/4 lengths behind the winner. Donworth finished second and Arrogate’s Bob Baffert-trained stablemate, Cat Burglar, ran third.
With Victor Espinoza aboard, Accelerate finished off the 1 1/16-mile dirt race in 1:42.15.
“He liked this track last year. You know he won two here last year,” Sadler said after the race, referencing Accelerate’s maiden-breaking win in July 2016 and his Shared Belief Stakes score in August. “He trained really well Sunday up at Santa Anita and showed a lot of pop when Victor worked him from the gate, and they kept telling me it was $50,000 for second.
“You want to win. You don’t want to concede anything, but I’m surprised we won, because Arrogate is the best horse in the world. A couple of things went right for us and one of them was Arrogate didn’t fire his best. That’s what has to happen for these big upsets.”
Hronis, Sadler and Espinoza are not unfamiliar with playing spoiler by the beach. Just a year ago it was Stellar Wind who brought the same connections a stunner over Beholder, another 1-9 favorite on the toteboard, in the Grade 1 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes.
But Saturday was a very different tone. Stellar Wind’s Hirsch win was a battle to the finish. Accelerate’s San Diego was a romp, and Arrogate never really improved his position throughout the race, because the fifth-place finisher, El Huerfano, stumbled harshly at the start, which caused jockey Evin Roman to lose his irons.
Accelerate set quarter-mile fractions of :23.49, :47.06, and 1:11.39 through six furlongs, but with Roman bouncing around without control in the saddle, El Huerfano ran free on the outside to cut the margin to a half-length on the backstretch.
But the winning Lookin At Lucky colt, who last won six starts back in the Grade 2 Los Alamitos Derby in September 2016, simply shrugged the unruly challenger off and kicked away. With a furlong to run, the advantage was seven lengths and Accelerate extended it as he powered home.
“I was surprised by how far I won,” said Espinoza, who was aboard Accelerate for the first time. “I wasn’t surprised that he won. I was here to win. I thought I’d sit second or third, but when that speed horse [El Huerfano] stumbled at the start, I made an easy lead. He got into a nice rhythm. He was going easy.”
Arrogate’s jockey, Mike Smith, didn’t have much to offer as far as an explanation after the Unbridled’s Song colt’s long, slow jog back to the grandstand to get unsaddled.
“I’m at a loss for words,” Smith said. “He was just flat — so flat. We were going around there OK, and then I took him outside like I did in the [Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline], but he just didn’t pick it up.
“So I dropped him inside again and cut the corner, then wheeled him outside once more, and tried to get something from him. But he was just flat. He wasn’t trying. So I just wrapped up on him and got him home safe. We’ve got to go back and start over again. Get it back right.”
Baffert echoed Smith’s sentiment.
“I think he was just flat,” the Hall of Fame trainer said. “I knew coming down here can be tough. Maybe I should have [worked] him [at Del Mar]. Mike said he was just flat and never in the race did he feel he had any horse. ... I think he just laid an egg.”