San Diego Handicap's Accelerate better with blinkers, age

July 19, 2018 05:05pm
In contrast from 2017, Accelerate will start as the favorite in the Grade 2, $200,000 San Diego Handicap on Saturday at Del Mar. Not only that, but with West Coast's recent inactivity, he goes into the race as arguably the best older dirt horse in the nation.

Last year, Accelerate was a mild upset alternative in this race. Now, Accelerate is the big horse.

What changed?

There are two factors that probably helped the 5-year-old son of Lookin at Lucky: blinkers and getting older.

Accelerate was a good horse before adding equipment, as he did win the 2016 Los Alamitos Derby (G2) and placed third in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile the same year.



The following season, he went on to finish second to Danzing Candy in an allowance race, and then third by 15 lengths in the Precisionist (G3) when Collected freaked.

Either Accelerate was not as fast in those races, or did not respond as easily to his jockey's urging. Regardless, he was still a good horse who belonged in big races.

When blinkers were put on Accelerate, though, his normal "A" race changed. He suddenly won the San Diego Handicap by over eight lengths with Arrogate in the field, earning an eye-opening 132 TimeformUS Speed Figure in the process.



Then, Accelerate backed up the effort by finishing third in the Pacific Classic (G1) at 1 ¼ miles, behind Collected and Arrogate. The connections had reservations about his ability to run that far, but they gave the race a shot anyway and he ran well. 

After a strange clunker in the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, Accelerate returned in late December with a deceptively good performance in the San Antonio Stakes (G2) closing into a soft pace. He then rounded back into form with scores in the San Pasqual (G2) and the Santa Anita Handicap (G1), earning another 130+ figure in the latter race.

In fact, Accelerate’s last three TimeformUS Speed Figures are over 130, including his second to City of Light in the Oaklawn Handicap (G2) and a 4 ¼-length win in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1), his third race at 10 furlongs and second win at the distance.

As for why the blinkers worked,
the equipment is mainly put on horses to help them concentrate or instill more speed, or a combination of both. Accelerate certainly showed himself capable of breaking sharply with blinkers, as he actually moved first in the Gold Cup before letting Dr. Dorr and City of Light go to the lead.

But Accelerate still is mainly a stalker.
Adding blinkers just seemed to help him focus and respond better when asked.

Regardless of equipment changes, some horses improve as they get older for physical or mental reasons. The most-recent Horse of the Year, Gun Runner, is one example.

Of course, there are precocious stars such as last year's Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming that peak at a young age and never move forward. There are also young horses that win a few big stakes races as a 2-year-old and disappear from the picture. Those horses are either geared for a quick return on their owners' investments, or their pedigree spells a short career (look up Dream Rush's foals).

At the same time, there are horses such as Gun Runner who improve at an older age. Remember, he ran an unremarkable third in the 2016 Kentucky Derby against Nyquist and Exaggerator, both runners who eventually flamed out before the Breeders’ Cup. He also finished a distant third in the Travers (G1) to Arrogate as that horse became a star.

One year later in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Gun Runner trounced Arrogate and proved himself the best older dirt horse in the nation. Then, he won the Pegasus World Cup over Bob Baffert’s supposed successor to Arrogate, West Coast.

The lesson is, horses who seem like ordinary stakes horses early in their careers are capable of improving by leaps and bounds if left in training. Accelerate has seemingly taken the torch as the division leader and moved forward in his 5-year-old season. He keeps turning in big efforts and has eliminated any notion of distance limitations.

On a larger scale, think of all the promising young talents over the years that retired at age 2 or 3 due to breeding interests. How many horses are retired too early before given a chance to show their best races such as Gun Runner, and now Accelerate, did?

It is a sad thought to ponder.


Accelerate may not be at the exact level at which Gun Runner retired. However, Accelerate is very good and will be tough to beat once again when he attempts a second victory in the San Diego, and also holds a great chance at an Eclipse Award for Older Dirt Male if he picks up at least one or two more Grade 1s in 2018.

 

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Meet Reinier Macatangay

My first time at the racetrack came as a 5-year-old kid at Santa Anita Park. For most of my younger life, that was the only track I attended other the occasional visit to Hollywood Park. 

Years later, after graduating California State University, Stanislaus with an English MA, I began writing for Lady and the Track. From late 2014-2016, my articles were seen on a weekly basis and covered handicapping, interviews with well-known racing personalities, fashion and more. 

The handicapping style I use concentrates on pace analysis. Some horses are compromised by the pace. Others are helped. Handicappers just starting out cannot easily see how pace affects the finish, so with this blog, I hope to help those unsure of how to apply pace into their handicapping and post-race analysis. 

On an unrelated note, I enjoy video games and attending anime or comic-book conventions. I am currently based in Kentucky, but spend a lot of time traveling between there and California.

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