Entering off three straight graded stakes
wins on turf including a pair of Grade I’s, 4-to-1 third choice Acclamation
transferred his front-running game to the main track for the first time,
holding off 2-to-1 favorite Twirling Candy
by a head in the $1 million Pacific
Classic at Del Mar to become the first three-time Grade I winner of 2011.
“It’s quite a thrill. It went just according
to plan. We said we would take the lead and Game On Dude would probably go with
us but we didn’t think he could,” said owner Bud Johnston, whose five-year-old
California-bred son of Unusual Heat stopped the clock in a mile and a quarter
track record time of 2:00.61 while pushing his career earnings over $1.5
million. “I thought he (Game On Dude) would be closer to us at the finish than
he was, but Twirling Candy gave us a real run for our money.”
After tracking a couple lengths behind
Acclamation early, Santa Anita Handicap (Grade I) winner and Hollywood Gold Cup
(Grade I) runner-up Game On Dude settled for fourth, beaten nearly five
lengths, as the 5-to-2 second choice.
A career that has been mired by numerous
substance-abuse related suspensions came full circle for jockey Patrick Valenzuela, who won the inaugural running of the Pacific Classic aboard Best
Pal in 1991.
“I’m grateful for the California Horse
Racing Board giving me back my license last year,” said Valenzuela after
guiding Acclamation through tepid fractions of 48.3 and 1:12.4. “I knew at the
half mile pole they were in trouble. If Twirling Candy was going to get by me
it would have been at the 1/16 pole because when he got right to me my horse
stuck his neck out and wanted to beat him.”
With Acclamation’s regular rider Joel
Rosario already committed to Twirling Candy, it figured that Valenzuela, known
as one of the best speed riders in the game, would fit Acclamation like a glove.
a great rider. You know he’s not going to choke. He rode him very, very well,”
said Johnston of the 48-year-old Valenzuela, who was aboard Acclamation for the
first time. “He rode him just according
to how we talked about it in the paddock. Let the horses come up to your flank
and when you ask him to run at the head of the stretch he’ll run for you, but
don’t hit him with the whip. He doesn’t like the whip. I lost three races
before I figured that out.”
Despite Valenzuela’s belief that
Acclamation could run well on dirt too, Johnston
indicated that he would likely make a return to the grass and point towards the
Breeders’ Cup Turf (Grade I).
Although Twirling Candy is now winless in
all four of his Grade I tries over a route of ground, going off favored each time, he silenced the
critics that said he couldn’t get the mile and a quarter. After all, he too
broke the track record with his runner-up effort and is likely still on track
for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (Grade I).
Last year’s Toyota Blue Grass (Grade I)
winner Stately Victor closed from last to finish third as the second longest
shot in the field at 15-to-1.
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