Decision time for Acclamation's people
Acclamation extended his winning streak to five races with a victory in the $150,000 Clement L. Hirsch Turf Championship at Santa Anita on Sunday, keeping him on course for the Breeders' Cup.
The only suspense is which BC race the 5-year-old horse will run in next month.
Acclamation pressed pacesetter Make Music for Me until taking the lead going into the stretch and winning the Grade 2 race by three-quarters of a length under Patrick Valenzuela.
In the $250,000 Oak Leaf Stakes, Weemissfrankie rallied to win by a half-length over Candrea to earn an automatic berth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.
In the Hirsch, Acclamation ran 1-1/4 miles in 1 minute, 59.45 second and paid $2.80 as the 2-5 favorite.
Champ Pegasus, last year's winner, was second. Imponente Purse was another 3-1/2 lengths back in third.
With a month to go until the Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs, trainer Don Warren and majority owner and breeder Bud Johnston can now focus on whether to run Acclamation in the 1-1/2-mile Turf against European horses or the 1-1/4-mile Classic on the dirt against North America's top older horses.
The weather in Louisville, Ky., on Nov. 5, which is always dicey, is likely to be the deciding factor.
''I don't want to run on the Churchill Downs (dirt) track unless it's wet,'' said Johnston, who will have to pay $100,000 to make his horse eligible for either race. ''I'm not going to run on a deep racetrack.''
If rain softens Churchill Downs' turf course, a condition that would favor the Europeans, Acclamation could run in the Classic.
''We think we would have a big shot on firm turf,'' Warren said. ''We don't think the Europeans are all that great, unless it's soft turf. Then they have a big advantage when it's yielding or soft. I would prefer the Breeders' Cup Turf. We could go either way, depending on the weather.''
A Breeders' Cup victory could insert Acclamation into the conversation for Horse of the Year. He won three consecutive Grade 1 stakes this year: the Eddie Read, Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap and the Pacific Classic.
''It's pretty hard for a California horse to get Horse of the Year,'' Johnston said. ''If we won the Turf and a long shot won the Classic, then we might be thrown into the picture. If we won the Classic, then we would definitely contend, but that's a lot of ifs.''
East Coast-based Cape Blanco won his third Grade 1 stakes Saturday in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont Park to go with earlier victories in the Man o'War and Arlington Million.
''They're making a big deal of Cape Blanco winning three Grade 1s this year, but he's not the only horse that's won three Grade 1s,'' Warren said.
Warren had entered Acclamation in Saturday's 1-1-8-mile Goodwood Stakes on Santa Anita's newly refurbished dirt track, but scratched the horse Friday in favor of running on the turf. Acclamation had won two Grade 1 races on the turf at Hollywood Park before winning the $1 million Pacific Classic by a head on Del Mar's synthetic surface in August.
''It was kind of an important trial because if he hadn't won today I probably would have scratched the Breeders' Cup race,'' Johnston said.
Acclamation stayed true to his style of running on or near the lead.
''We had planned some strategy for either (Champ Pegasus) to go to the lead or (Make Music for Me), so we were actually prepared to lay second to somebody if they wanted to go,'' Warren said. ''Otherwise, we would have put our horse on a two- or three-length lead.''
Valenzuela wasn't worried when Champ Pegasus made a run at him in the stretch.
''I had plenty of horse left,'' he said. ''He's just a great, great horse who just gives it his all and lays it out on the racetrack.''
Trainer Richard Mandella said he would give serious thought to running Champ Pegasus in the BC Turf.
''The winner was just too much, but my horse was trying hard,'' he said. ''Maybe with another race in him, I'll rise to that level next time.''
In the Oak Leaf, Weemissfrankie ran 1-1/16 miles in 1:42.92 and paid $5.60 as the 9-5 favorite. One of the 2-year-old filly's owners is MTV host Rob Dyrdek.
Candrea barely missed giving Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert a record eighth win in the race. Charm the Maker, who unseated Garrett Gomez at the starting gate, was another half-length back in third.