Hronis Racing’s Accelerate didn’t make it easy on himself in the Grade 1, $300,000 Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita Park on Sept. 29, but his prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic still resulted in a victory.
The chestnut multiple Grade 1 winner resisted going into the starting gate under jockey Joel Rosario for the 1 1/8-mile race, then acted up, broke slowly, raced last in the six horse field the first time by the finish line, and traveled four-wide into the first turn.
The John Sadler-trained son of Lookin At Lucky advanced to fourth on the backstretch, then moved with a three-wide attack on leader West Coast on the final turn to grind out a 2 1/4-length victory in the stretch and finish the distance in 1:50.38. West Coast held second by a half-length over 57-1 longshot Isotherm.
“He wasn’t very good in the gate, didn’t stand very well, and that’s probably my fault. He kind of missed the break,” Sadler said. “I should have taken him one more time to the gate to stand. But he overcame it, got a nice, clean trip, and the best horse prevailed today.”
After the slow break, Rosario asked 5-year-old Accelerate to get into the race. In the past, Accelerate’s few missteps have sometimes been caused by gate issues.
“John told me he is a little slow to get going, so I just made sure we got ourselves in the game right away,” Rosario said. “I just wanted to get position, and my horse was going comfortably. He loves to run. He was waiting on the turn, and then he took off.”
The Awesome Again was the fourth Grade 1 win of the season for Accelerate, who previously won the Santa Anita Handicap Presented by San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino, Gold Cup at Santa Anita Stakes, and TVG Pacific Classic, but all of those were achieved relatively easily in comparison.
“It’s nice to see all those things that didn’t go his way today, and he still came out on top,” owner Kosta Hronis said. “It just shows what kind of horse he is.”
West Coast, a multiple Grade 1 winner in his own right, also pleased his connections in his first start since the March 31 Dubai World Cup Sponsored By Emirates Airline. The 4-year-old Flatter colt stalked longshot Shades of Victory through a first quarter-mile in :22.89, then took over with a one-length lead through a half-mile in :46.17.
Passed on the final turn by Isotherm, West Coast battled back on the inside under jockey Mike Smith and for a moment in the stretch looked like he might even come back on Accelerate, who was clear on the outside.
“He really ran a huge race,” Smith said. “I really couldn’t ask for more out of him. He really needed that push, and we forced him to move forward a little more, but I think that he did it well, and it was good for him.”
West Coast’s trainer, Bob Baffert, said after the race that the Breeders’ Cup Classic is in the colt’s sights.
“He’s got a chance to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic with this race under his belt,” Baffert said of West Coast, who finished third in the 2017 Classic. “He made that horse run today. We got beat by a really good horse. ... [West Coast] was empty earlier than I thought, but his class kept him in it. He kept running.”
Hronis and Sadler also had their minds on the Breeders’ Cup prize after the Awesome Again.
“We’ve been on all sides of this game, so we’re OK with [being the favorite for the Classic]," Hronis said. "Maybe a race like this is better for him than what happened in the Pacific Classic, when he just sort of ran free. Maybe the gutsy performance is better for him.”
“Breeders’ Cup is obviously next up,” Sadler added. “We’ll train here at home and then go and follow Bob Baffert over there to Churchill about a week before. We’ll kinda of walk behind Bob and creep up on him.”
$300,000, Grade 1 American Pharoah Stakes: The trajectory of Game Winner’s career continued in its upward trend with a 4 1/2-length score in the American Pharoah Stakes. Sent off at odds of 3-10 in his first start around two turns, Gary and Mary West’s 2-year-old Candy Ride colt pressed early leader Rowayton, put his head in front in the second turn, and pulled away late to finish off the 1 1/16-mile test in 1:43.77.
Game Winner is now undefeated in three starts and has two Grade 1 victories, including his first top-level score in the Sept. 3 Del Mar Futurity. The win Saturday was trainer Bob Baffert’s first win in the race — which was previously named the FrontRunner Stakes and the Norfolk Stakes — since American Pharoah won in 2015. The Hall of Fame conditioner has won the race eight times overall.
“I can’t take credit for this horse,” Baffert said. “The Wests and their team found this horse and trusted me with him. ... I just want to get [to the grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile] with a nice, healthy horse. This horse tipped us off this summer that he was going to be a good one.”—Jeremy Balan
$300,000, Grade 1 Chandelier Stakes: Kaleem Shah’s Bellafina once again dominated her competition of 2-year-old fillies in the Chandelier Stakes. After clear scores in the Grade 2 Sorrento Stakes and Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante over the summer, the Quality Road filly, trained by Simon Callaghan, stretched out to two turns for the first time in the Chandelier and won by her widest margin yet.
By the time she reached the top of the lane in the 1 1/16-mile test, after she passed pacesetter Vibrance on the second turn, it was clear Bellafina would be the winner and she widened her advantage to the finish line under jockey Flavien Prat to win by 6 1/2 lengths in a final time of 1:44.59.—Jeremy Balan
$300,000, Grade 1 Rodeo Drive Stakes: The rags to riches journey of former claimer Vasilika took a remarkable turn on Sept. 29 at Santa Anita Park. Continuing her steady improvement this year for Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, the 4-year-old Skipshot filly closed from fourth to win the Rodeo Drive Stakes by half a length over 3-year-old Paved. Vasilika was a $40,000 claim in February, and progressed to win seven in a row. —Claire Crosby