So what did we learn Saturday when Accelerate – the futures favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Classic – defeated second choice West Coast by 2¼ lengths in the $300,345 Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes?
Probably not a lot that we didn’t already know. If anything, the nine-furlong feature here at sun-drenched Santa Anita offered confirmation that these are two really damn good horses.
“He overcame adversity and probably a really wide trip,” Accelerate’s trainer John Sadler said. He was acting up in the gate a little bit, so we need him to go stand a little bit before his next race.”
The fact that Accelerate (3-10) overcame a back-footed, off-balance start that left him last coming out of the gate made his victory all the more impressive. Even though he was forced four-wide into the first turn, he was never more than 3½ lengths behind. When he got to the quarter pole, Accelerate had the lead that kept getting wider.
“He recovered nicely,” said winning jockey Joel Rosario, getting his second afternoon ride on the 5-year-old Accelerate in place of the injured Víctor Espinoza. “John told me he is a little slow to get going, so I just made sure we got ourselves in the game right away.”
He was in the game, all right. When he got to the quarter pole, Accelerate had a lead that kept getting wider on West Coast and their overmatched rivals. In getting his third consecutive Grade 1 win, Accelerate seemed to feed off the challenge. And trainer Bob Baffert said that West Coast fed off Accelerate.
“He gave (Accelerate) a good run,” Baffert said of his 4-year-old that had not raced since finishing second six months ago in the Dubai World Cup. “He needs good company to keep him going, and there's no better company than Accelerate to keep him in a race.”
What was most impressive about West Coast (8-5) was that he looked gassed at the top of the stretch, fading a half-length behind into third place before jockey Mike Smith found something extra to pass Isotherm (57-1) and finish a half-length ahead of him in third.
“He needed that,” Smith said. “They came at him early, and he was like, ‘Darn, already?’ He had to give himself a breather, and when he did, he came again. He came again good.”
Baffert had said this week that West Coast was maybe 80 percent of his old self.
“And he had two guys in the race at 100,” Smith said.
Presuming they come out of the race without any complications – easier said than done across horse racing this year – we will next see Accelerate and West Coast race against one another Nov. 3 at Churchill Downs in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, a race that will stretch them back to 1¼ miles.
“We kind of backed him up (in distance) a little bit because he was stepping down from a mile and a quarter,” Sadler said about Accelerator. “He’s not squeezed too dry. If he comes out of this good we’re going to be all guns ahead.”
Discreet Lover is upset winner in New York
At one point 15 lengths off a suicidal pace, Discreet Lover (45-1) made a late charge down the middle of the track to overtake Dubai World Cup winner Thunder Snow (6-1) and win by a neck in the $750,000 Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park.
“It’s the first Grade 1 for the horse and myself,” said owner-trainer Uriah St. Lewis, 60, a Trinidad and Tobago native who has been training horses in New York since the ’80s. “All I want to do is go cash my ticket.”
Discreet Lover and Thunder Snow were both held way back for the first six furlongs of the 1¼-mile race. It proved the wiser strategy after the favorite and defending winner Diversify (3-5) was chased by Coolmore invader Mendelssohn (4-1) while setting insane, early fractions of 22.72, 45.64 and 1:09.13. Mendelssohn held on for third in front of the deep-closing Carlino (69-1), and Diversify faded to fifth.
“They put on a good pace in front of me,” winning jockey Manny Franco said. “I was just trying to let him relax and let him be comfortable. When I asked him he was there. This horse can do anything.”
Now 7-for-44, the 5-year-old winner by Repent out of a Street Cat broodmare ended a six-race losing streak that included this month’s 12th-place finish in the Woodward at Saratoga. Now, out of the blue, Discreet Lover has a guaranteed place in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
“Let’s see how he comes out of it, and then we’ll go from there,” St. Lewis said. “One step at a time. But everything is paid for, so we don’t have to worry.”
St. Lewis bought Discreet Lover for $10,000. He now has $1.35 million in race earnings.
Game Winner triumphs in American Pharoah
In a race watered down by the absence of summertime standouts Instagrand and Roadster, the Baffert-trained Game Winner (3-10) stalked a less-than-blinding pace and ran on to win the $300,000 Grade 1 American Pharoah Stakes at Santa Anita by 4½ lengths over the hard-charging Gunmetal Gray (3-1) with pace-setter Rowayton (5-1) fading another length behind to third.
“This horse tipped us off this summer that hew was going to be a good one,” Baffert said. “He is strong, and he still looks a little heavy.”
Now 3-for-3 with Grade 1 wins both Saturday and in the Labor Day running of the Del Mar Futurity, Game Winner figures to be the favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs. According to Oddschecker, a website that monitors European betting, the 2-year-old colt sired by Candy Ride out of an A.P. Indy broodmare shortened to 11-8 at Bet365 and 7-4 at Ladbrokes to win the Nov. 2 race at Churchill Downs.
“I don’t plan to do too much with him before the Breeders’ Cup,” Baffert said. “The good ones get there.”
Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column is posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com and after big races such as here. 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. This week’s RFRP and coverage of the road to the Breeders’ Cup are sponsored by Xpressbet.