Bettors chasing a big price with horizontal bets built to a Breeders’ Cup Classic long shot were disappointed the same way that connections for Accelerate were excited.
With late bets making him the favorite, Accelerate (7-2) took the lead turning four-wide for home and ran on to win by one length in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on a crisp, sunny Saturday afternoon at Churchill Downs.
So much for the race being wide open for that inevitable, long-shot victory.
For those – OK, me – who were hoping for Gunnevera (30-1) to close hard and win it late, the problem was that he came up short for the second race in a row. Then again, his second-place finish was worth $21.80 to place and $11.80 to show.
And 1½ years after his rodeo-like refusal to run in the Kentucky Derby, Godolphin colt Thunder Snow (14-1) had a more than respectable run to finish third, 1¾ lengths behind Accelerate. Not bad for a horse that did not finish at all out of the same gate over the same 10 furlongs two springs ago.
For those bettors who were alive on Pick-4 tickets to a bet of “all” in the Classic – OK, me, again – there was plenty of frothing over the possibility of a bomber coming through at the end. Why not Lone Sailor at 90-1? Dare to dream – until he finished sixth.
But it was not as if the day was unprofitable. As one media colleague put it, there was money to be made. It was just not life-changing.
Gunnevera at the back of a Pick-4? That was a mirage of a pot at rainbow’s end. But Accelerate’s victory did complete a 50-cent Pick-4 that paid $157.95, decent money even hitting after “all” and multiplying the investment to $7.
The good news making these horizontal tickets was the sure thing the race before. It was easy to single two-time Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Enable (4-5) in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. It was tougher, though, for her to actually win it, having to survive a nail-biting, middle-of-the-course duel with Coolmore filly Magical (10-1) for a three-quarter-length victory. That made her the first horse to win the Arc and a Breeders’ Cup race in the same year.
And to think that this 4-year-old filly underwent a knee operation last winter, putting her out of business until she won a modest September race against only three rivals on an all-weather track in Kempton, England.
“Everything that could have gone right did really go right in terms of recuperation,” said Lord Teddy Grimthrope, racing manager for Enable’s owner Juddmonte Farms. “When she was back in her (stable) she was frustrated. She wasn’t going out. She started walking, started trotting, started cantering. All that process is a very vital, vital part of the preparation to make sure she’s right.”
Making history like this is old hat for Prince Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte (record-tying seven Breeders’ Cup wins), jockey Frankie Dettori (14) and trainer John Gosden (five).
On the other hand, the Classic victory for Accelerate ended an 0-for-43 drought in these championships for trainer John Sadler.
“I’m thrilled, no doubt,” Sadler said. “This is what I do every day, every year for my whole career. We’re prepared for the worst and hope for the best. So to really get the big one, I couldn’t ask for a better day.”
As it turned out, the biggest question for Accelerate was whether he would hop or dawdle in the gate the way he did starting what would eventually be victories in the Pacific Classic and Awesome Again back in California. As it was, Accelerate balked Saturday at being loaded into the gate at all.
“When he goes to the gate, he just kind of refused to go inside,” said Joel Rosario, who rode three winners over the two days of the Breeders’ Cup, best of any jockey. “That’s normal for him. That’s what he does before going to get in the gate.”
Once he got started, Accelerate looked fine. He cruised along in fifth off a hot pace before Rosario hit the accelerator with a half-mile to go in what proved to be the decisive move. The winning time was 2:02.93 on a main track that dried to be legitimately fast after 1½ days of steady rain Wednesday and Thursday.
Last year Accelerate may have been most famous for being the horse that won the San Diego Handicap that was supposed to belong to Arrogate. But he also finished ninth in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Del Mar.
This year Accelerate finished his campaign with four straight wins – all in Grade 1 races – making him a Horse of the Year contender that might actually get the award at the expense of undefeated, Triple Crown winner Justify.
“He’s done something no one else has done,” Accelerate’s co-owner Kosta Hronis said. “He swept the California Grade 1s. He’s undefeated at a mile-and-a-quarter. I read somewhere that maybe he did this all in the wrong year. Well, maybe Justify won the Triple Crown in the wrong year.”
If all goes as planned, Accelerate will come off a break at his future stallion home – Lane’s End here in Kentucky – and finish his career in January at the $9 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park. That comes one day after he wins – or loses – the Horse of the Year trophy at the Eclipse Awards.
“This is Horse of the Year,” Hronis said, emphasizing the word “year.” “It’s a body of work, and what he has done in the last 12 months, I think he’s well deserved to win that honor. There’s no doubt.”
He may not be the value play that he once was – betting vertically or horizontally. But the way Accelerate’s 2018 has gone, horseplayers would be wise to take heed before betting against him.
Breeders’ Cup notes and opinions
Monomoy Girl (9/5) chased an honest pace and seized the lead with Florent Geroux turning her for home on the way to winning the Distaff by one length over a fast-closing Wow Cat (6-1) and rival Midnight Bisou (5-1). The winning time for the nine furlongs 1:49.79. A sixth straight Grade 1 win climaxed a championship year for the daughter of Tapizar. Trained by Brad Cox, Monomoy Girl had to overcome an outside draw as she did over the same track in May when she won the Kentucky Oaks.
Dettori’s trademark, flying dismount not only came after his win on Enable, but it also punctuated his victory aboard Expert Eye (5-1), the 3-year-old Juddmonte colt that closed late to win by a half-length in the Mile over two Americans – Catapult (6-1) and Analyze It (6-1). The winning time on the turf course that dried to “good” – really good-to-soft – was 1:39.80. Coming off an unlucky third-place finish in September in the Prix du Longchamp in Paris, Expert Eye’s win validated the decision by trainer Sir Michael Stoute and Grimthorpe to skip the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes last month on British Champions Day and come here to Kentucky. Sired by Acclamation, Expert Eye has won four group or graded stakes.
California trainer Peter Miller dominated the sprints on Saturday with two of his horses successfully defending their 2017 Del Mar victories. Roy H (5-2) chased a blistering pace and took the lead with a wide turn en route to winning the six-furlong Sprint in 1:08.24. Whitmore (6-1) finished 3¼ lengths behind in second with the favorite Imperial Hint (8-5) five lengths behind in third. Pace-setter Promises Fulfilled (9-2) ran the first two furlongs in 21.35 seconds and the first four in 44.21 before giving ground at the top of the stretch. Paco López rode to his first Breeders’ Cup win on Roy H, a 6-year-old gelding sired by More Than Ready that had been ridden last year by Kent Desormeaux.
A 30-1 winner for Miller in 2017, Stormy Liberal (7-1) came out ahead by a neck in a stretch-long duel with front-running World Of Trouble (2-1) to repeat in the 5½-furlong Turf Sprint. Disco Partner (5-1) was 7½ lengths behind in third. It was Stormy Liberal’s fourth win in a row – all by a neck or less – and his first in five tries outside California. Ridden by Drayden Van Dyke, the 6-year-old gelding sired by Stormy Atlantic was clocked at 1:04.05. Rockingham Ranch owner Brian Trump said that Stormy Liberal will be aimed for the Al Quoz Sprint and Roy H for the Golden Shaheen next March on Dubai World Cup night.
Trained by Chad Brown, Sistercharlie (3-1) closed down the middle of the course to take the lead just before the wire and win by a neck over Godolphin 3-year-old Wild Illusion (5-2) in the 1 3/8-mile Filly & Mare Turf. Another Brown filly – A Raving Beauty (11-1) – finished third. Brown’s record fourth victory in the race was ridden by John Velázquez, whose 16 Breeders’ Cup victories are second only to fellow Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith’s 26. The winning time was 2:20.96.
A beaten favorite in his last two starts coming in, City Of Light (5-2) led the whole way as the second betting choice to win the Dirt Mile by 2½ lengths over Seeking The Soul (10-1) and Bravazo (14-1). Riding for trainer Mike McCarthy, Javier Castellano ran his total of Breeders’ Cup victories to 10 aboard the 4-year-old colt by Quality Road. The winning time was 1:33.83. Catalina Cruiser (4-5) broke to his right from the outside post and got as close as third running wide around the one turn before fading to sixth for Sadler.
Only two weeks after her most recent race, Shamrock Rose (25-1) closed from last place to beat Chalon (14-1) by a head and Anonymity (31-1) by a neck in the Filly & Mare Sprint. The winning time was 1:23.13 for the seven furlongs. Trained by Mark Casse and ridden by Írad Ortiz Jr., Shamrock Rose is a 3-year-old sired by First Dude. She has won her last four races, including two graded stakes. Trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Mike Smith, Marley’s Freedom (4-5) started slowly and was forced wide on her way to finishing a close fourth, making her one of 18 odds-on favorites to finish off the board out of the 62 that have started Breeders’ Cup races.
Ron Flatter’s racing column is posted every Friday and more frequently from big races. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod, also posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. You may subscribe to the RFRP through leading providers such as Apple Podcasts, Google Play Podcasts and Stitcher.