With a steady rain falling and a wet fast track that appeared sloppy providing a wintry stage for the 81st running of the Grade I, $600,000 Santa Anita Handicap, favored Accelerate did just that turning for home as he blasted by Bob Baffert’s Mubtaahij en route to an emphatic 5 ½ length win under Victor Espinoza.
Owned by Hronis Racing, LLC and trained by John Sadler, Accelerate got a mile and a quarter in 2:01.83 while providing Sadler with his first-ever win in Santa Anita’s signature race for older horses.
Breaking from the far outside in a field of seven, Mubtaahij appeared to make an easy lead, due in part to the fact expected speedster Great Expectations hopped in the air at the break. As a result, Accelerate was a joint second with longshot Top of the Game heading into the Club House turn and engaged Mubtaahij immediately as they turned down the backside.
Heading to the three furlong pole, Espinoza had the winner in gear and he put away Mubtaahij leaving the three furlong pole, quickly repulsed a move to his outside from Great Expectations three sixteenths from home and from there, the Big ‘Cap was a foregone conclusion.
Santa Anita Handicap Replay
“When I passed the wire the first time, Accelerate really found his rhythm,” said Espinoza, who bagged his second Big ‘Cap victory. “He was cruising on the outside, cruising along, nice and comfortable, nothing crazy and I was just waiting and waiting until another horse came next to me. I wanted to wait a little bit longer because the mile and a quarter was a little far for him, but it seems like he didn’t have any problem today.”
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An impressive winner of the Grade I San Pasqual Stakes at a mile one eighth here Feb. 3, Accelerate, who was third in his only other try at the Big ‘Cap distance this past August in the Grade I Pacific Classic, was the 5-2 favorite and paid $7.00, $3.80 and $2.20.
“He’s had some big races,” said Sadler. “He beat Arrogate twice last year, so for him to win a (Grade) I here at Santa Anita at a mile and a quarter is huge. We passed up the Pegasus (Grade I, $16 million at Gulfstream Jan. 27) and Dubai (World Cup, Group I on March 31) to run here at home.
“We had a nice outside post (six of seven), so we were hoping to be in the clear and a little off the pace. I thought maybe Giant Expectations would go and we’d be following him. Turns out we were following (Mubtaahij)…For me, it’s as good as it gets, being a California guy…I’m a little suspect that he’s a mile and a quarter horse, but mud will make them go further if they’re handling the track.”
With the Big ‘Cap being his first Grade I win, Accelerate now has four graded stakes victories included among an overall mark of 17-6-4-5. With the winner’s share of $355,000, Accelerate is now Thoroughbred racing’s newest millionaire, with earnings of $1,262,480.
Although passed momentarily by Giant Expectations a quarter mile out, Mubtaahij re-rallied to finish second by seven lengths under Mike Smith. The second choice at 5-2, Irish-bred Mubtaahij paid $4.20 and $3.20.
“He ran very, very well,” said Smith. “The winner was just double-loaded and I wasn’t going to beat him today. It was his turn. I waited to make my move a little later and hopefully get second and it worked out.”
Shipping in from Florida, Fear the Cowboy, with Javier Castellano up, rallied from off the pace to finish third, 1 ¼ lengths in front of Giant Expectations. Off at 9-2, Fear the Cowboy paid $2.80 to show.
Giant Expectations, who many thought would be on the early lead, had to re-adjust after the bad break and did well to finish fourth under Corey Nakatani, 5 ¾ lengths in front of Top of the Game.
“He broke so sharp, the ground broke out from underneath his hind end,” said Nakatani.
Fractions on the race were 23.49, 47.99, 1:12.32 and 1:36.93.