Winning one for the home team is what this year’s edition of the Pacific Classic was about. California-bred Acclamation pulled off a stunning victory for his California based owners. This race earned a spot high on my list of favorites for the year for many reasons: Acclamation setting a track record; one of my personal favorite horses, Twirling Candy, and his great effort placing a head behind the winner; Stately Victor, my longshot pick, had a strong third place finish, and to top it off Patrick Valenzuela’s repeat victory spanning twenty years. Fast horses, fast track, fast people…loved it, loved it, loved it!
Acclamation, a five year old son of Unusual Heat, is raced in the colors of Bud and Judy Johnston, as well as Peter and Mary Hilvers. I applaud the Johnston’s for breeding this versatile horse that made the Pacific Classic his fourth straight win, and his third straight Grade I victory. Don Warren trains Acclamation, in addition to the other Johnston horses. The Johnston runners have been trained by Warren for thirty-three years.
Warren opted to put Patrick Valenzuela in the irons of his turf phenom when regular rider, Joel Rosario, jumped off to ride Twirling Candy, who was the 5-2 morning line and post-time favorite for the Pacific Classic. Knowing Acclamation ran at his best when he set the pace, Warren wisely matched his horse with Valenzuela, who is known for his ability to win with pacesetters. Valenzuela gave a textbook ride aboard Acclamation at 4-1 odds, slowing the pace down to dawdling fractions of :24.57 for the opening quarter mile, and :48.65 for the half mile.
This impressive horse has only two questions to answer going into the Breeders’ Cup. If he is to race in the Classic, the question remains: how will he handle the conventional dirt surface? Acclamation has started only twice on dirt, finishing last in one, and placing one length behind Z Humor with a slow time of 1:51.43 for 1 1/8 miles on a track rated as fast. The second place came in September of 2009, but the last came in April of this year.
The second question is: how will Acclamation run if he is not making the pace? From 2010, he has competed in nine races where he was unable to set the pace. Out of those starts, he won only two. However, one of those two, the Jim Murray Handicap, was held in May of this year. Acclamation’s victory in the Jim Murray leads me to believe that he may possibly be a different horse. Seeing his past few starts, it is clear he has improved from the previous year. Therefore, both these questions will be unanswered until we see more.
If Acclamation starts in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, he should be considered one of the top contenders. His track record time of 2:00.61 on Del Mar’s PolyTrack is nothing short of extraordinary, keeping in mind that he drifted to the outside in mid-stretch. It is great to see that he defeated the west-coast older males when handicapping the Breeders’ Cup Classic, assuming he enters that race. The west-coast older males have an edge on the east-coast elders in this remarkable year for older horses.
I must give Acclamation accolades for not only his impressive run in the Pacific Classic, but also the versatility he exhibited. Despite being nosed out for the win, Twirling Candy remains my favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Twirling Candy has had an outstanding racing career which spans over two years. Currently a four year old, the son of Candy Ride that stands over seventeen hands is an adaptable horse, blazing over not only conventional dirt and synthetic surfaces, but is also an accomplished turf specialist himself. In last year’s Malibu Stakes, Twirling Candy set the track record for seven furlongs in 1:19.70 on Santa Anita’s main track.
He has also proved that he isn’t just versatile on different track surfaces, but additionally in race strategy. Twirling Candy can sit on or off the pace, and still get to the winner’s circle, which is great to see when considering how a horse will perform against larger fields where that horse’s running style may have to be modified.
It has been speculated that Twirling Candy is incompetent of getting the Classic distance. His trainer, John Sadler, wasn’t deterred from entering Twirling Candy in the Pacific Classic, which would be the colt’s third start at 1 ¼ miles this year. Mr. Sadler expressed his opinion regarding the colt’s two previous starts at 1 ¼ mile, saying that Twirling Candy was unable to win because his horse carried four to six pounds more than the others that finished before him.
Sadler has done a spectacular job training Twirling Candy up to the Pacific Classic by working him at longer distances to build up the wind necessary for longer races. When a horse is competing at extensive distances regularly, I believe it is very important for that horse to have extended, relaxed works to keep his endurance at a high level.
Twirling Candy gave an exemplary performance in the Pacific Classic by breaking easily from gate ten out of the eleven horse field. Fortunately, he did not trip from the gate that was positioned on the chute. Horses rarely start on the chute which results in a loose surface that could possibly cause a horse to stumble at the start.
With his ears up, he was in no rush to run as Joel Rosario guided him to the rail. Around the first turn, Rosario had positioned him one path wide in third, trailing Acclamation, and second choice, Game On Dude. Twirling Candy ran about one length behind the first two horses into the Del Mar backstretch, where it is said that it seems as if the horses are running into the water from a rider’s viewpoint. As the race progressed, he lost ground on Acclamation, and Game on Dude, which concerned me due to the fact that the pace was so slow and leisurely.
With a half mile left in the Pacific Classic, Twirling Candy and the eight trailing horses gained ground on the leaders. However, it was a three horse race when the others lost ground rounding the turn. Twirling Candy went four paths wide, and stayed even with Acclamation and Game on Dude. Patrick Valenzuela aboard Acclamation legally shut off Game on Dude at the top of the stretch, which may have thrown Game on Dude off his game.
It became apparent that this edition of the Pacific Classic was one to remember as the two big horses blasted down the homestretch. Acclamation, appearing as an impassible force, was still drifting wide as Twirling Candy approached. The horses shot past the wire, with Acclamation a head in the lead. Victorious, Valenzuela stood in the irons aboard the champion of that day, just as he had twenty years ago aboard Best Pal who won the inaugural running of the Pacific Classic.
Acclamation gave an outstanding performance that only adds to his already impressive record, as did Twirling Candy who ran out of ground at the wire. Though Acclamation did not impede on the second placer on the homestretch duel, it made me a bit nervous seeing him squeeze over to Twirling Candy. I played back the race numerous times to see if there could have been any influence to Candy’s run, but couldn’t visually detect any effect. However, it may have looked quite different from Twirling Candy’s perspective. It is also worth noting that Twirling Candy traveled nineteen feet more than Acclamation, and that he had to travel four paths wide around the turn.