Accelerate Wins Grade 1 Awesome Again at Santa Anita

Accelerate — who has had a nearly perfect racing campaign in 2018 — is even more likely now to be a favorite for the Breeders' Cup Classic after his win Saturday in the Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita Park.

“He’s doing great. He’s such a good horse, probably the best horse in the country, clearly so now,” Accelerate’s trainer, John Sadler, told reporters after the race. “We’ll be ready.”

Accelerate — whom Sadler said “kind of missed the break” after acting up in the gate — beat last year’s 3-year-old male champion, West Coast, by 2 1/4 lengths.

Isotherm was a half-length back in third, his best finish ever in a Grade 1 race.

Accelerate now has four wins in five starts this year, with his other victories coming in the Pacific Classic, Gold Cup, Santa Anita Handicap and San Pasqual, and his only loss in the Oaklawn Handicap in April.

“He had a very good 4-year-old year and he’s having a better 5-year-old year. He’s just in peak condition,” Sadler said of the chestnut son of Lookin At Lucky. “If everything comes out of this good, we’re going to be all guns ahead.”

Accelerate has been at the top of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s Top Thoroughbred Poll for weeks since the retirement of West Coast’s former stablemate, Triple Crown winner Justify.

West Coast, the bettors’ second choice, came into the race after a six-month layoff following runner-up finishes to Gun Runner in the Pegasus World Cup and Thunder Snow in the Dubai World Cup.

Although West Coast hasn’t made it to the winners’ circle so far this year, the son of Flatter and 2000 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Caressing has earned a whopping $3.6 million in 2018 for owners Gary and Mary West.

While West Coast came up short in the Awesome Again, his connections were happier with the result in the Grade 1 American Pharoah Stakes, which was won by the undefeated Game Winner.

The 2-year-old colt is a son of Candy Ride. Game Winner’s dam, Indyan Giving, was unraced, but his grand-dam, Fleet Indian, won just over $1.7 million in races including the Beldame and the Personal Ensign.

“I knew that he’d be up for it … He’s strong and he’s getting better,” Baffert said of Game Winner.

The Hall of Fame trainer said he was happy to win the race named in honor of one of his former barn superstars, and hopes to be victorious in it for the next 10 years, too.

Horse Bits:

— Sadler and Baffert often have horses pitted against each other in some of Southern California’s biggest races, and they’ll both be heading to Churchill Downs for the Breeders’ Cup in early November.

“We’re going to probably train here at home and then go and follow Bob Baffert over there to Churchill about a week before. I’m going to kind of walk up behind him and creep up on him,” Sadler quipped.

— Vasilika certainly has paid off for her connections. The 4-year-old granddaughter of Skip Away got her first Grade 1 victory in the Rodeo Drive Stakes on the same track where she was claimed Feb. 11 for $40,000.

She won that race and seven others since, including the Grade 2 John C. Mabee at Del Mar, with just one loss in nine starts this year.

Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said he didn’t have any aspirations of Vasilika winning a Grade 1 race when she was claimed, and said he was “just looking for a horse that could win a race.”

He said her connections still have to decide whether to nominate her for the Breeders’ Cup.

— Meanwhile, Bellafina scored her third and most dominant victory so far with a 6 1/2-length win in the Grade 1 Chandelier for trainer Simon Callaghan and owner Kaleem Shah.

“I think she’s answered every question,” Callaghan said of the 2-year-old filly by Quality Road. “We’ve seen so much maturity with this filly … She’s done everything you could ever ask.”

Shah credited the filly’s trainer with an equipment change — no blinkers in her latest race.

“Everybody has been talking about her switching leads and she finally did it,” Shah said.

As for what’s next, Callaghan quipped that he would like to “wrap her in cotton balls and just hope everything goes smooth.”