September 25, 2023

Accelerate outlasts West Coast in clash of Breeders’ Cup Classic threats in Awesome Again

Accelerate and jockey Joel Rosario win the Awesome Again Stakes (G1) on September 29, 2018, at Santa Anita Park © BENOIT PHOTO

Hronis Racing’s Accelerate overcame a problematic start to prevail at odds of 1-5 in Saturday’s $300,345 Awesome Again (G1) at Santa Anita, likely solidifying his status as the early favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). But runner-up West Coast arguably got just the kind of stiff prep he needed off his six-month layoff, setting up a fascinating rematch in the $6 million affair on November 3 at Churchill Downs.

While the Awesome Again was a “Win and You’re In” for the Classic, Accelerate had already locked up his spot by virtue of a 12 1/2-length rout in the Pacific Classic (G1) at Del Mar. That completed a sweep of the three marquee 1 1/4-mile races in his division out west, the March 10 Santa Anita H. (G1) and the May 26 Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1). The John Sadler charge remains a neck away from a perfect 2018, his margin of defeat by City of Light in the April 14 Oaklawn H. (G2).

Accelerate created a bit more dramatic tension than might have been expected at the break. Antsy in the gate, he got away on an awkward hop and found himself last in the opening strides. Jockey Joel Rosario had the chore of helping him recover position without asking too much, too soon, a balancing act that Accelerate was able to pull off.

Meanwhile, an on-the-muscle West Coast, sidelined since his second in the March 31 Dubai World Cup (G1), chased longshot pacesetter Shades of Victory through an opening quarter in :22.89, and the 8-5 shot took charge before the half in :46.17. Accelerate crept forward approaching the six-furlong mark in 1:10.35, with the 57-1 Isotherm ambitiously holding his place between the two class horses.

Circling wide on the turn, Accelerate headed Isotherm, and West Coast gave the impression of laboring to an off-the-board finish. But West Coast got a second breath once straightening into the stretch, and he stayed on resolutely. Accelerate kept chugging the farther they went, ultimately imposing his will by 2 1/4 lengths. The final furlong was a slow :13:68, however, producing a time of 1:50.38 for 1 1/8 miles.

West Coast felt his exertions in the waning yards but defeated Isotherm by a half-length for second. Next came Prime Attraction, The Lieutenant, and an outclassed Shades of Victory.

Accelerate’s resume reads 21-9-5-5, $2,492,480. Unraced at two, the son of Lookin at Lucky developed into a notable sophomore of 2016 by capturing the Los Alamitos Derby (G2) and Shared Belief and placing a hard-charging third in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1). At four he romped in the San Diego (G2), famously upstaging the off-form Arrogate, and collected placings in the 2017 Pacific Classic, San Pasqual (G2), Precisionist (G3), and San Antonio (G2) (twice, in its original February slot and its repositioning in December). At his peak now at the age of five, he kicked off his banner season with a victory in the February 3 San Pasqual.

As track announcer Michael Wrona pointed out, Accelerate was an apt winner of the race named in honor of his broodmare sire, Awesome Again. Bred by Mike Abraham in Kentucky, Accelerate was produced by the stakes-placed Issues, who’s also responsible for stakes scorers Daddy D T (third in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf [G1]) and Amarish. This is the family of Wagon Limit, the 1998 Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) hero.

Further back, Accelerate descends from Broodmare of the Year Smartaire. Because she also factors in the pedigree of Lookin at Lucky’s sire, Smart Strike, Accelerate sports a 5×5 duplication of Smartaire – another example of the Rasmussen Factor of intensifying the strains of superior females.

Quotes from Santa Anita

Trainer John Sadler on Accelerate: “He wasn’t very good in the gate, didn’t stand very well and that’s probably my fault. He kind of missed the break. I should have taken him one more time to the gate to stand. But, he overcame it, got a nice clean trip and the best horse prevailed today.

“I felt good when he was clear all the way around there. He’s got a good kick.

“You’re always nervous in these races. He’s run so well and he’s been so consistent so you always hope he stays consistent so we’re very happy.

“Breeders’ Cup is obviously next up. We’ll train here at home and then go and follow Bob Baffert over there to Churchill about a week before. We’ll kind of walk behind Bob and creep up on him.

“We’re excited. We’ve got Catalina Cruiser (slated for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile) working tomorrow so hopefully we’ll go over there to Kentucky with a strong hand.

“It’s a good feeling that we might go into the Classic (with Accelerate as) the favorite because I like being the favorite. It has the highest probability of winning. He’s a good horse, doing great and probably the best horse in the country now, clearly. We’ll be ready.

“We overcame adversity today and also probably a really wide trip. They looked they were all floating him out a bit into that first turn.

“Another thing I’m looking forward to is that we know this horse likes an off racetrack and it rains over there (Kentucky). He’s just a solid horse. He’s a late foal and he’s continued to thrive. He had a good four-year-old year and he’s having a better five-year-old year. He’s just in peak condition.

“I’m not really concerned about this taking anything out of him. We kind of backed him up a bit from 1 1/4 miles so he’s not squeezed too dry. If everything comes out of this good it’ll be guns ahead.”

Winning co-owner Kosta Hronis: “He was a little feisty, but he’s not really a great gate horse anyway. It’s nice to see all those things that didn’t go his way today, and he still came out on top. It just shows what kind of horse he is.

“We’ve sort of decided that he’s better busy, and that’s the way we’ve approached it this year. We’ll just have to see where this path takes us, and hope that he likes the track at Churchill.”

“He was feisty in the gate. I think the guy grabbed him a little and he didn’t like that. According to Joel he was upset when he broke, but as long as he wasn’t boxed in, I felt the best horse was going to win.”

On having the Breeders’ Cup Classic favorite: “We’ve been on all sides of this game, so we’re OK with that. Maybe a race like this is better for him than what happened in the Pacific Classic when he sort of just ran free. Maybe the gutsy performance is better for him. Joel said he was kind of waiting at the sixteenth pole for the competition and he just wanted to fight.”

Winning rider Joel Rosario: “He left the gate slow, but he recovered nicely. John (Sadler) told me he is a little slow to get going, so I just made sure we got ourselves in the game right away. I just wanted to get position and my horse was going comfortably. He loves to run. He was waiting on the turn and then he took off. He’s a really special horse and I’m thankful John gave me the opportunity to ride him the last two times.”

Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith on West Coast’s runner-up effort: “He really ran a huge race and had an incredible run. I couldn’t ask for more out of him. He really needed that push and we forced him to move forward a little more but I think that he did well and it was good for him. He should move forward and I think forcing him a little more really helped him and it was just what he needed. Overall he did good and really gave us a great run.”

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert on West Coast: “He’s got a chance to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic with this race under his belt. He made that horse run today. We got beat by a really good horse . . . (West Coast) was empty earlier than I thought, but his class kept him in it, he kept running. This race will really set him up well for the Breeders’ Cup Classic.”