Trainer Phil D’Amato won the $250,702 Del Mar H. (G2) for the fifth time in the past six years on Saturday as Acclimate controlled the pace throughout in this “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1).
In a reprise of the about 1 3/4-mile San Juan Capistrano (G3) exacta, Acclimate once again had enough left to hold off deep closer Oscar Dominguez. This time, however, the Cal-bred got away with a softer pace courtesy of new rider Florent Geroux.
Also unlike the marathon San Juan, the 1 3/8-mile Del Mar ‘Cap featured accomplished rivals from higher-profile races. Multiple Argentinian Group 1 hero The Great Day ranked as the 9-5 favorite off his second in the Arlington H. (G3), while the 2-1 Marckie’s Water had captured the Charles Whittingham (G2) prior to a rallying second in the Eddie Read (G2). The smarter form lines didn’t apply as much as the old adage about pace making the race.
The 7-1 Acclimate easily cleared the field despite breaking from the outside post 9. Ritzy A. P., the third-placer from the Eddie Read, tracked without applying any pressure through fractions of :24.12, :47.70, and 1:11.97 on the firm turf. By the time the leader clocked a mile in 1:36.15, Ritzy A. P. began to challenge, and fellow stalker Itsinthepost likewise tried to take closer order.
But Acclimate still had something left in strategic reserve. Spurting away from his early pursuers turning into the stretch, the son of 2011 Pacific Classic (G1) star Acclamation built up an insurmountable advantage. Oscar Dominguez, with great credit, rolled from last to cut the deficit to one length at the wire. Acclimate negotiated 1 3/8 miles in 2:12.71.
Ritzy A. P. checked in a one-paced third, edging rail-hugging Blended Citizen. The Great Day didn’t factor in fifth, while Itsinthepost faded to sixth and Marckie’s Water, who briefly improved position on the backstretch, ended up trailing the seven-horse field.
Richard Mandella’s promising United was scratched after coming down with the virus that’s also affected stablemate Omaha Beach. Also withdrawn was longshot Arizona Moon.
A homebred campaigned by the Ellwood Johnston Trust in partnership with Timmy Time Racing, Acclimate sports a mark of 16-6-1-2, $325,872. The bay graduated from starter allowance company to upset his San Juan Capistrano stakes debut at 9-1, then regressed to last of 11 in the California Dreamin’ on July 26. A return to a longer trip, and the concomitant ability to dictate terms, helped.
The five-year-old gelding was bred by the late Johnston’s Old English Rancho, Sal Berumen, and Patsy Berumen. Out of the Boundary mare Knows No Bounds, Acclimate counts as his third dam multiple Grade 1-placed stakes scorer Fancy ‘N Fabulous, a full sister to Grade 2-winning sire Something Lucky. This is the further family of Canadian champion Hollinger and recent El Joven hero Deviant.
Earlier on the card, the $100,351 Green Flash H. (G3) had Breeders’ Cup implications of a different variety, with two-time Turf Sprint (G1) champion Stormy Liberal getting back to work toward his three-peat bid, and 6-5 favorite Eddie Haskell looking to stay hot. But it was the fresh face of Mr Vargas who stole the show in his stakes debut.
Trained by Brian Koriner for Jay Em Ess Stable, the 3-1 chance sped right to the early lead for Joe Talamo. Stormy Liberal, the 2-1 second choice in his title defense, chased in second most of the way but couldn’t lift in the stretch. Eddie Haskell, another close stalker, ultimately overtook the ring-rusty Stormy Liberal without posing a threat to the winner.
Mr Vargas was good enough to take advantage of the weight spread, carrying 117 pounds compared to Stormy Liberal’s 125 and Eddie Haskell’s 123. After rattling off splits of :22.44 and :44.35, the Midshipman gelding kicked 2 1/4 lengths clear and clocked five furlongs in :56.15.
The venerable Undrafted made late headway in fourth, followed by longshots Calexman and Shades of Victory.
Talamo alluded to a past Koriner stable star – California Flag, the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint hero who landed back-to-back runnings of the Green Flash (2009-10).
“We California Flagged ‘em. The plan was to get him out there and make the lead. He did his part. He got a little breather when I dropped over at the half (-mile pole) and again on the turn, but otherwise he was running hard all the way. When they came for him he just went on. I was afraid they were going to be closing on us, so I went for it and he responded very well. He’s a really nice horse.”
“He’s just a runner,” Koriner commented. “He ran great his first race here and did it again today. He’s a racehorse! A fast, fast horse.”
Mr Vargas was coming off a course-and-distance allowance victory, his first start on turf since his sophomore campaign in 2017 when he placed three times on the surface. The chestnut scored his other two official wins on the Los Alamitos dirt. He also crossed the wire first in a second-level allowance on Del Mar’s main track last summer, only to be disqualified for a reported medication overage. His resume now stands at 11-4-3-2, $198,185.