Accelerate leaves no doubt as to who's the Breeders' Cup Classic favorite

If there was any doubt that Accelerate is the best horse currently running, he erased all doubt by overcoming a bad start, wide turns and an Eclipse Award winner to win the $300,000 Awesome Again Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita. He should be the favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 3 at Churchill Downs.

It was the kind of race that you expect out of great horses. Despite all the trouble, Accelerate found a way to win, and in the end, it was by a comfortable 2¼ lengths.

It started when he was fractious in the gate and then didn’t break well.

“He left the gate slow, but he recovered nicely,” said winning jockey Joel Rosario, who came from New York to ride the colt. He picked up the mount when regular rider Victor Espinoza was injured in a training accident. It’s unclear when Espinoza will resume riding and if he will ride Accelerate again.

“[Trainer] John [Sadler] told me he is a little slow to get going, so I made sure we got ourselves in the game right away,” Rosario said.

West Coast, last year’s 3-year-old Eclipse Award winner, went to the lead in the 1 1/8-mile race. But this was his first race in more than six months, so no one knew what to expect. Entering the first turn, Accelerate was wide.

“We overcame adversity today and also probably a really wide trip,” Sadler said. “They looked like they were floating him out a bit into that first turn.”

Down the backstretch, West Coast was comfortable on the lead and Accelerate was still racing outside in the fourth spot. Deep into the turn, Accelerate moved even with West Coast and poked his head in front at the top of the stretch.

“He was waiting on the turn and then he took off,” Rosario said.

It was Accelerate’s third straight win and sixth in seven races. This year he has won the Santa Anita Handicap, Gold Cup, Pacific Classic and now the Awesome Again. He has won almost $2.5 million lifetime.

“It’s nice to see all those things that didn’t go his way today, and he still came out on top,” said Kosta Hronis, who owns the horse along with his brother Peter. “It just shows what kind of horse he is.”

Accelerate, the heavy favorite, paid $2.60, $2.10 and $2.10. West Coast was second and Isotherm was third. The remainder of the field of six were Prime Attraction, The Lieutenant and Shades Of Victory.

“Maybe a race like this is better for him than what happened in the Pacific Classic, when he sort of just ran free,” Hronis said of the Del Mar race he won by a record 12½ lengths. “Maybe the gutsy performance is better for him.”

Despite West Coast’s second-place finish, trainer Bob Baffert was pleased with the performance, especially after such a long layoff.

“He got beat by a really good horse,” Baffert said. “I was really happy. He was trying to win. But he was empty a lot earlier than I thought. We would have liked to have won, but I think this really sets him up for the Breeders’ Cup Classic.”

Mike Smith was back on West Coast after the colt was ridden twice by Javier Castellano.

“He ran a huge race and had an incredible run,” Smith said. “I couldn’t ask for more out of him. … He should move forward and I think forcing him a little more really helped him and it was just what he needed.”

It was the second “win and you’re in” race for Accelerate. The Pacific Classic gave him his first free pass into the race. Now he has two, but it’s not like he can transfer the invitation to another horse.

“Breeders’ Cup is obviously next up,” said Sadler, who has not won in 41 Breeders’ Cup starts. “We’ll train here at home and then go and follow Bob Baffert over there to Churchill a week before. We’ll kind of walk behind Bob and creep up on him.”

It will be Accelerate’s third Breeders’ Cup start. He finished third in the Dirt Mile in 2016 and ninth in the same race last year.

“It’s a good feeling going into the Classic the favorite because I like being the favorite,” Sadler said. “It has the highest probability of winning. He’s a good horse, doing great and probably the best horse in the country now, clearly. We’ll be ready.”

No doubt, when he heads to Churchill Downs, people will mention that he has run 20 of his 21 lifetime races in California. The one race outside the state was this year in the Oaklawn Handicap. He finished second.

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