Hronis Racing's Accelerate did just that in Saturday's Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap, pulling away from the field in the final sixteenth of a mile to win by about five lengths. The 5-year-old son of Lookin at Lucky was co-favored at 5-2, along with both runner-up Mubtaahij and fourth-place finisher Giant Expectations. Ridden by Victor Espinoza, Accelerate gave hometown trainer John Sadler his long-awaited first win in the Big 'Cap, completing 1 1/4 miles over a main track rated “wet fast” in 2:01.83.
Hoppertunity was a late scratch after the rains hit Santa Anita.
“When I passed the wire the first time, Accelerate really found his rhythm,” said Espinoza, who bagged his second Big 'Cap victory. “He was cruising on the outside, cruising along, nice and comfortable, nothing crazy and I was just waiting and waiting until another horse came next to me. I wanted to wait a little bit longer because the mile and a quarter was a little far for him, but it seems like he didn't have any problem today.”
There was a scary moment at the start of the Santa Anita Handicap when Giant Expectations stumbled badly leaving the gate. Luckily, he and jockey Corey Nakatani were able to recover fairly quickly, and join the rest of the field as all seven older horses raced down the stretch for the first time.
Mubtaahij had the lead for trainer Bob Baffert, with Top of the Game and Prime Attraction also prominently placed early on. Accelerate moved up to establish his position in third, while Giant Expectations was able to swing wide and secure fourth position entering the clubhouse turn. Fear the Cowboy was last of all at the six-furlong pole.
After setting fractions of :23.49 and :47.99, Mubtaahij was just under a length ahead of Accelerate approaching the far turn. Giant Expectations made a big move around the bend, ranging up into contention while three-wide, but he seemed to flatten out nearing the head of the lane. Accelerate took over the lead with gusto at the quarter pole, apparently unbothered by the wet racetrack, and galloped toward the wire an easy five-length winner.
Giant Expectations made his bid but could not get past Mubtaahij in the lane; Mubtaahij went on to finish second, while Fear the Cowboy ran on late to finish third ahead of Giant Expectations.
“He's had some big races,” said Sadler. “He beat Arrogate twice last year, so for him to win a (Grade) I here at Santa Anita at a mile and a quarter is huge. We passed up the Pegasus (Grade I, $16 million at Gulfstream Jan. 27) and Dubai (World Cup, Group I on March 31) to run here at home.
“We had a nice outside post (six of seven), so we were hoping to be in the clear and a little off the pace. I thought maybe Giant Expectations would go and we'd be following him. Turns out we were following (Mubtaahij)…For me, it's as good as it gets, being a California guy…I'm a little suspect that he's a mile and a quarter horse, but mud will make them go further if they're handling the track.”
Bred in Kentucky by Mike Abraham, Accelerate was a $380,000 yearling purchase at the Keeneland September sale. A multiple Grade 2 winner, Accelerate got his first top-level score with the Santa Anita Handicap victory. Overall, he boasts a record of 6-4-5 from 17 starts, with earnings of over $1.2 million.
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