With the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” schedule underway for 2018, the time has come to begin sorting the contenders from the pretenders for this year’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships.
In this week’s Getting to Know feature, we focus on Hronis Racing’s Accelerate, winner of the $1-million TVG Pacific Classic Stakes on Aug. 18 at Del Mar to earn a starting spot in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 3 at Churchill Downs.
With four wins and a close second in five starts this year, including three Grade 1 wins after his Pacific Classic runaway, Accelerate has eased into the driver’s seat for the Eclipse Award as champion older dirt male – I’ll leave the Horse of the Year debate to the Twitterati.
It’s tough to knock what Accelerate has accomplished in his 5-year-old season as the flashes of brilliance he showed last year have become consistent excellence in 2018.
In his first four starts of the year, Accelerate posted either a 119 or 120 Equibase Speed Figure, while in the Pacific Classic he got back up to a 125, just a tick off the career-best 126 he recorded for winning the Grade 2 TVG San Diego Handicap in 2017.
But a single figure doesn’t truly do justice to the dominant effort Accelerate turned in last weekend. After stalking the early pace, he took charge entering the final turn and opened a four-length lead with an effortless rally, pulling away to win by a stakes-record margin of 12 ½ lengths.
Accelerate simply outclassed his six opponents, all group or graded stakes winners, in the Pacific Classic, including Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap winner Pavel (the Pacific Classic runner-up) and Roman Rosso, a multiple Group 1 winner in South America.
Of course, the flip side of that class coin is that the six opponents have combined for exactly six North American graded stakes wins between them and, after eliminating the South American stakes, there is only Pavel’s top-level win. As dominant as Accelerate was, this Pacific Classic field will never be mentioned as one of the most talented in the race’s history.
While it’s fair to question the quality of competition Accelerate overwhelmed in the Pacific Classic, it’s impossible not to be impressed by his season to date.
He opened the year with a 1 ¾-length win in the Grade 2 San Pasqual Stakes, defeating both Pavel and Grade 1 winner Mubtaahij. He then romped by 5 ½ lengths in the Santa Anita Handicap Presented by San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino.
After shipping to Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark. for the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap and running second by a neck to City of Light, Accelerate dominated that familiar rival when winning the Gold Cup at Santa Anita Park by 4 ¼ lengths. Grade 2 winner Dr. Dorr was second and City of Light finished 5 ½ lengths back in third. With a string of 120-119-119-120 Equibase Speed Figures, Accelerate went into the Pacific Classic as the 2-5 favorite and exceeded the hype.
When I mentioned earlier that Accelerate had shown flashes of brilliance, it should not be confused for calling him inconsistent. In fact, he’s finished in the top three in 18 of 20 career starts with eight wins. His only unplaced finishes came in his second career race and the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Las Vegas Dirt Mile, so he’s a horse who runs his race almost every time. But this year, he’s been consistently elite.
Simply running a big race could be all it takes to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic this year with a division hurt by the recent loss of Triple Crown winner Justify to the breeding shed combined with the retirement of Gun Runner and before him Arrogate.
Similarly, Collected, the runner-up in last year’s Classic, has not raced since January and has only posted two published workouts, while 2017 Classic third-place finisher West Coast has not raced since March and does not have a timed workout since he returned to training.
My two key concerns with Accelerate are the quality of competition he’s faced this year and the fact that the 2018 Breeders’ Cup is in Louisville at Churchill Downs.
Let’s start with the first point: in his five races this season, Accelerate has beaten a total of three Grade 1 winners, plus three more Grade 2 winners.
Now, these races are open to all comers. Accelerate has no control over who he’s facing, and in some case others might be ducking him, but with West Coast and Collected sidelined the California older male division is pretty thin.
The second part of this is that Accelerate has only shipped out of Southern California once – to Arkansas for a runner-up finish in the aforementioned Oaklawn Handicap in April – so it’s tough to guess how he might adapt to potentially brisk fall weather in Louisville come November. His runner-up finish at Oaklawn was promising, but he’d be even tougher if this year’s World Championships were at Del Mar, where he’s won 4 of 6 starts, or at Santa Anita, where he’s won three straight.
It’s also fair to point out that trainer John Sadler is winless with 41 Breeders’ Cup starters, although he does have three runner-up finishes in the event and 32 career Grade 1 wins.
I’m admittedly nitpicking a bit here. It’s tough to imagine Accelerate won’t be a major factor and vie for favoritism in the Breeders’ Cup Classic if he maintains his current form. The speed figures indicate he’s absolutely fast enough – the average winning Equibase Speed Figure for the Classic over the last decade is 121.1 with a median of 120.5. Accelerate boasts potent tactical speed and push-button acceleration, and he’s won his last three starts at 1 ¼ miles.
Right now, the Breeders’ Cup Classic is shaping up like a classic West Coast (Accelerate) vs. East Coast (Diversify) showdown.
Given that we know Accelerate relishes the 1 ¼-mile distance of the Classic, I won’t dedicate much time to his pedigree as it pertains to the race.
Accelerate is from the second crop of two-time champion Lookin At Lucky, the 2010 Preakness Stakes winner.
He is one of three stakes winners produced by his dam (mother), Issues, a stakes-placed winner by Awesome Again. Other notable family members include champion Smart Angle, Grade 1 winner and sire Wagon Limit, and Grade 2 winners and sires Smarten and Quadratic.