Del Mar, California
He may be the best thing going on dirt right now over 1¼ miles. Well, minus the 25 feet he loses dawdling at the gate.
Accelerate (2-5) can be excused for his slow starts, especially after he won Saturday’s $1 million Grade 1 Pacific Classic at Del Mar by a stakes record 12½ lengths.
“It was a very exciting win,” trainer John Sadler said. “The way he did it was so special just drawing off from those horses. It was great. I’m ready to retire.”
Saturday’s win over second-place second choice Pavel (6-1) and third-place Prime Attraction (15-1) completed a rare, southern California sweep for Accelerate. He became only the third horse after Lava Man 12 years ago and Game On Dude in 2013 to win the Santa Anita Handicap, the Gold Cup and the Pacific Classic in the same year.
“We thought we had the best horse,” Sadler said. “We wanted it all to go smooth, and it did, so it was extremely rewarding.”
But there was the small matter of the slow start.
“That’s him,” Sadler said. “He can get a little relaxed at the gate, but he picked it up right after that.”
“He broke just a little bit slow,” said winning jockey Joel Rosario, who flew west to substitute for the injured Víctor Espinoza. “Right away he recovered, and then I pushed him a little bit. I was with the leader right away, so I was happy with that.”
The early leader was Roman Rosso (6-1), the big 4-year-old that just arrived in Bob Baffert’s barn from South America. In his U.S. debut he would wither to finish fourth after Accelerate blew past him and Prime Attraction on the far turn.
“He saw the two horses in front of him,” Rosario said. “He’s just a horse that if you ride him, he goes. So I just kept riding him, and I took advantage of it from there.”
“He broke so well that we just went to the front,” Roman Rosso’s jockey Flavien Prat said. “I saw that he’d run in front down there. I just let him go on with it.”
After chasing Roman Rosso’s early fractions of 23.05 and 46.69, Accelerate drew away to win in 2:01.83 on a fast, sun-baked main track.
The impressiveness of the victory led Wynn Las Vegas oddsmaker Johnny Avello to shorten Accelerate to 6-1 to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Accelerate and West Coast are now co-second choices to Good Magic at 9-2.
“The plan is probably to run once at Santa Anita in the Awesome Again (Sept. 29) before heading the Breeders’ Cup,” Sadler said. Then trying to rein in his enthusiasm, he stopped looking ahead and declared, “We’re just going to enjoy this one tonight.”
Eskimo Kisses is surprise Alabama winner
Chasing a hot early pace, Eskimo Kisses (9-1) came from last place to score a 6½-length, upset victory in the $600,000 Grade 1 Alabama Stakes, the first 1¼-mile test for 3-year-old fillies racing Saturday at Saratoga.
“The pace of the race was going to be a big deal for her,” winning trainer Ken McPeek said. “She’s a big, late-running type. This was a race we were waiting for since February.”
Ridden for the first time by José Ortiz, Eskimo Kisses got her first stakes victory in five tries after losing her last three races, all Grade 1s, by an average of 6¼ lengths.
“Perfect trip,” Ortiz said. “I could’ve moved at the three-eighths pole next to Midnight Bisou, but I decided to cut the corner, and it worked out.”
Chasing an early pace of 22.52 and 46.79 set by eventual fourth-place finisher Talk Veuve To Me (2-1), Iowa Oaks winner She’s A Julie (6-1) held on for second, a neck in front of the four-time graded-stakes-winning favorite Midnight Bisou (6-5).
“A mile-and-a-quarter might be a bit too far,” jockey Mike Smith said after Midnight Bisou’s late charge came up short. “This is probably not her favorite racetrack. She moves over Belmont better than she moves over this track. She really struggles with it.”
The winning time was 2:03.22 over a main track labeled fast but considered deep by many of the riders coming back.
Unique Bella is retired after morning injury
The popular, front-running filly Unique Bella, an Eclipse Award winner last year, was retired after she suffered a slight fracture to her foot here in a Saturday morning workout.
“She just came back and cooled out a little funny, so we X-rayed her ankle,” her trainer Jerry Hollendorfer told VSiN. “She had a chip off her sesamoid from her workout. She’s standing good, and she’s not in any kind of stress or danger at this point in time, so we think she’ll be OK. It’s just the chip is in a place that we probably couldn’t try to run her with that thing in there.”
A 4-year-old sired by Tapit out of an Unbridled’s Song broodmare, Unique Bella won here in last month’s Clement L. Hirsch Stakes, her third and final victory in a Grade 1 race and her eighth in a graded stakes. She earned $1,272,400 from 12 starts with nine wins, all at Santa Anita and Del Mar. She was favored in all but one of her races and never went off at odds longer than 13-10.
Unique Bella was being aimed at next month’s Zenyatta Stakes at Santa Anita as a prep for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff in November at Churchill Downs. The worst finish of her career was here last year when she finished seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. She came back the following month to win the La Brea at Santa Anita, propelling her to being voted the top U.S. female sprinter of 2017.
Asked where he would rank Unique Bella in a stable that has included previous Eclipse winners Blind Luck, Shared Belief and Songbird, Hollendorfer said, “I don’t rank them. I’m just grateful to have had her in my barn, and those kind don’t come along that often. She automatically has to rank very high.”
Hollendorfer said a breeding career was not yet confirmed for Unique Bella, but he predicted that her owners – the Chilean-based Haras Don Alberto stable – “will keep her in their broodmare band and breed her to a very good stallion.”
Ron Flatter’s racing column is posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com and after major races. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod, also posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. The RFRP is also available at leading providers such as Apple Podcasts, Google Play Podcasts and Stitcher.