Acclamation tosses hat into Horse of the Year ring

It’s believed Acclamation, a 5-year-old son of Unusual Heat, became the first horse in America this year to win three Grade I stakes after he went gate to wire under Patrick Valenzuela to take the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Sunday.

Acclamation, trained by Don Warren, won the Charlie Whittingham Handicap at Hollywood Park on June 11 and the Eddie Read Stakes at Del Mar on July 23, two Grade I turf stakes, before winning for the first time in seven tries on synthetics.

It came down to another tough decision that paid dividends for owner Bud Johnston.

The first came last month when Johnston decided to skip the Grade III Sunset Handicap at Hollywood Park on July 17 for the tougher Grade I Eddie Read six days later.

The result?

Acclamation went gate to wire to beat Jeranimo and Caracortado in the Eddie Read.

Then Monday morning, after Acclamation turned in an impressive six-furlong workout over Polytrack under Valenzuela, Johnston decided to bypass the $200,000 Del Mar Handicap in favor of the more lucrative Grade I Pacific Classic.

“Maybe I better quit now,” he joked after watching Acclamation win for the fourth time in six starts in 2011 and eighth time in 27 races overall.

“When you have a horse as versatile as Acclamation, you can make a lot of bad decisions and still look good.”

Acclamation has suddenly entered the Horse of the Year chase, joining Tizway, Blind Luck, Havre de Grace and the up-and-coming Stay Thirsty for the most prestigious of the Eclipse Awards.

Valenzuela gave him a vintage P-Val ride, saving just enough to hold off the hard-charging 2-1 favorite Twirling Candy by a head as Acclamation became the sixth California-bred to win the Classic in the closest finish in the race’s 21 runnings.

“I’ve had two heart attacks and a four-way bypass,” Johnston said. “I brought my cardiologist to the races once and he told me, ‘I don’t know why I put you through those tests. Nothing compares to a horse race.’ ”

Afterward, Johnston said he’s more apt to run Acclamation in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5 rather than the Classic, which is run over Churchill’s main dirt track.

“But we’re not ruling anything out,” he said.

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