Accelerate, the now 5-year-old son of Lookin At Lucky, trained by John Sadler for Hronis Racing LLC, shocked the racing world a year ago at Del Mar, winning the San Diego Handicap by 8 ½ lengths while super horse (to that point) Arrogate struggled home fourth at odds of 1-9. A month later, Accelerate pressed the pace of wire-to-wire winner Collected in the Pacific Classic before being passed late by Arrogate.
Accelerate is back to defend his title in the Grade II $200,000 San Diego on Saturday to continue a 2018 campaign which has already produced victories in the Santa Anita Handicap in March and the Gold Cup at Santa Anita in May.
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There was a lot of buzz about Lava Man in 2006 when he arrived with victories in the Big Cap and then-Hollywood Gold Cup. The 5-year-old former claimer created quite a sensation winning the Pacific Classic to complete the sweep of California's biggest handicaps in one year.
Times have changed, however. The $600,000 Santa Anita Handicap gets passed over frequently by horses headed to the $6 million Dubai World Cup. The $500,000 Gold Cup can get lost in the wake of the Triple Crown series with its spot nearing the end of the long Santa Anita meeting. The Pacific Classic is now the only $1 million race of the three major Southern California circuit handicap events.
`It's the way of the world," Sadler said Tuesday when asked if he felt Accelerate was underappreciated. "But he's doing great and we've got a lot more planned for him in the second half of the year. From the Pacific Classic to all the way into the fall."
Accelerate has seven wins, five seconds and five thirds in 19 career starts and earnings of more than $1.7 million. He carried 117 in the San Diego in 2017 but is high-weighted at 125 this year.
"He's been rock solid, he hasn't run a bad race, going against the tough guys in Grade I and Grade II stakes," Sadler said. "So we're looking forward to the San Diego."
In addition to the Big `Cap and Gold Cup, Accelerate has a win in the Grade II San Pasqual at Santa Anita and a second in the Grade II Oaklawn Handicap in 2018. He's finished off the board only once in his last nine starts, all at the Grade Stakes level. Victor Espinoza has been aboard for seven of his last eight starts.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has won the $1 million Pacific Classic five times but has visited the winner's circle after the San Diego, the major Classic prep event, only once. That was with Fed Biz in 2014.
Baffert will be doubly represented by Dr. Dorr, owned by his wife Natalie, and Dabster, owned by the Sheik Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum. Dr. Dorr won the Grade II Californian at Santa Anita in April and was second to Accelerate in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita last month.
Dabster was an allowance winner in his only Del Mar appearance on the undercard of the Breeders' Cup program on Friday, November 3.