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.

TOC responds to CTHA’s decertification effort

Thoroughbred Owners of California president Lou Raffetto fired back at the newly formed California Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association on Saturday afternoon after the CTHA announced earlier in the day it had submitted more than 1,100 signatures to the California Horse Racing Board calling for an election to decertify the TOC.

Current CHRB records list 7,705 thoroughbred owners. Petitioners surpassed the required amount of 770 signatures of licensed owners and they have been forwarded to the CHRB for validation. If validated, the CHRB would oversee an election most likely within three months.

“This is an attempt led by a small group of individuals that does not have the best interests of the owners in mind,” Raffetto said in a statement. “Simply put, the leadership of the CTHA does not want a strong owners’ organization, but seeks to merge it into one that can be controlled by trainers. The trainers already have a capable representative organization in the California Thoroughbred Trainers.’

Raffetto disputes the CTHA’s assertion that it is seeking unity in the industry.

“In fact they are looking for control and to reduce owners’ voices,” he said. “This power play is divisive and could not come at a worse time. My sense is that California racing has turned the corner and is headed down the right road. The leadership of the CTHA bus is prepared to drive the industry over the cliff.”

The press release states that the TOC, which began in 1993, is the official organization serving new, veteran and future thoroughbred owners in the state.

Blind Luck will be staying home for next race

Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said Saturday morning at Del Mar that his champion 4-year-old filly Blind Luck will stay home and possibily run in the $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 28. She could also wait and race next in the Lady’s Secret Stakes on Oct. 1 during Santa Anita’s autum meet.

“We’re not going to New York (Personal Ensign Stakes),” Hollendorfer said. “We’re not going to New Jersey (Molly Pitcher). If we run anywhere, it will be here.”

The Classic’s 1 1/4-mile distance on Polytrack would seem to be right up Blind Luck’s alley. She’s unbeaten at the distance in two tries and has been training well over the surface since returning from a narrow victory over Havre de Grace in the Delaware Handicap on July 16.

If she goes, it would be the first career start against males for Blind Luck, who’s embroiled in a tight Horse of the Year race that also includes Havre de Grace and Tizway among others. The Pollard’s Vision filly has never been out of the money in 21 starts, scoring 12 victories and compiling earnings of $3,279,520.

Havre de Grace will be making her next start against males in the Woodward Stakes at Saratoga on Sept. 3.

Only two fillies have run in the Pacific Classic in the race’s first 20 runnings — Paseana in 1992 and Island Fashion in 2005 — and both finished off the board.

Hollendorfer said Blind Luck’s next major workout will come Tuesday or Wednesday and that the filly will not run in the Pacific Classic unless everything is perfect.

In other Del Mar news:

* The Pacific Classic drew 18 nominations and could include a full field of 14 for the first time since 2002 when post positions are drawn Wednesday night.

Considered probables for the Pacific Classic are Achak (Tyler Baze), Blind Luck (Garrett Gomez), Caracortado (Joe Talamo), Don Cavallo (Luis Contreras), Game On Dude (Chantal Sutherland), Jeranimo (no rider), Setsuko (Victor Espinoza), Stately Victor (no rider), Tres Borrachos (Rafael Bejarano) and Victory Pete (no rider).

Possibles for the Pacific Classic include Acclammation, Bourbon Bay, Make Music For Me and Quindici Man.

* Hollendorfer, six victories away from 6,000, blanked with two horses at Del Mar on Friday and three at Golden Gate Fields.

He’s got two entered today at Del Mar and two more at Golden Gate.

* Jockey Tyler Baze is in the middle of three excused days from riding because of a bruised tailbone. Baze was unseated by his mount, You Little Devil, before last Sunday’s 10th race.

You Little Devil ran off and was scratched from the race. Baze’s X-rays were negative.

* Rosario went into Saturday’s 10-race card leading Talamo by one victory, 26-25, in the race for the riding title. Bejarano had 24 victories and Gomez was next with 23.

* In the trainers’ race, John Sadler led Mike Mitchell, 13-12, with Doug O’Neill and Peter Miller tied for third with eight victories apiece.

* Kicken Off, a 4-year-old filly trained by Julio Canani who clipped heels with another horse in Wednesday’s third race on the grass with Martin Pedroza aboard and went down, had to be euthanized Saturday.

It was believed Kicken Off would be OK after the mishap, but she was laying down in her stall Saturday morning and would not get up, prompting the decision to euthanize the horse.

Further tests will be done to determine what happened to the filly.

CTHA calls for election to decertify TOC

The Thoroughbred Owners of California can’t say they weren’t warned.

The California Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, formed in late March, announced Saturday morning it has submitted more than 1,100 signatures to the California Horse Racing Board calling for an election to decertify the TOC.

“We have been working to reunify and revitalize thoroughbred racing in California,” CTHA president David Wilson said in a statement. “Earlier this month we reached out to the TOC to try to resolve our differences. Unfortunately, the TOC has refused even to respond to our offer. Nevertheless, we remain determined to secure the right of every CHRB licensed thoroughbred owner to determine how and by whom they wish to be represented. Obviously, a large number of California horse owners agree.”

The CTHA contended from the start that the interests of the horsemen had not been properly represented and listed nine decisions by the TOC that contributed to that neglect, including:

* Failure to disclose receipt of more than $1 million from the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.
* Refused an opportunity to secure concessions from the Indians when the Indians were seeking renewal of their compacts.
* Spent in excess of $1 million (of horsemen’s money) in an effort to fund a group seeking to purchase Santa Anita.
* Held all meetings behind closed doors.
* Disenfranchised horsemen who are both owners and trainers.
* Condoned and encouraged wagers that result in handle declines.
* A lack of support for Northern California racing.
* Vetoed contractual opportunities with Australia.
* Failed to respond to the horseplayers’ boycott.

“We look forward to bringing California thoroughbred horsemen together and working with all racing industry interests: the state, the tracks, fellow horsemen, and our customers to provide a better product and sustainable opportunities,” Wilson said. “We welcome all thoroughbred owners as equals and oppose any discrimination against fellow owners. We appreciate the response from our fellow horsemen and look forward to working together in the upcoming election.”

Horseplayer and longtime racing activist Andy Asaro said it could be up to three months before the election is actually held.

According to the CTHA’s press release, California Horse Racing Board Rule 2040 requires petitioners seeking to decertify an existing horsemen’s organization to first submit signatures of 10 percent of the existing organization’s members for validation. Following validation of the signatures, the CHRB will establish a date and conduct the decertification election.

Current CHRB records list 7,705 thoroughbred owners. Petitioners surpassed the required amount of 770 signatures of licensed owners and they have been forwarded to the CHRB for validation.

Some interesting numbers at Del Mar

Consider this:

* There was $390,684 in the pick five pool Sunday at Del Mar. This is a bet that carries a low 14 percent takeout. It’s also a bet that, according to one representative of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, would never catch on with the bettors. Well, it’s now one of the most popular bets on the Southland circuit.

* After an encouraging first couple of weeks, Del Mar’s all-sources handle has been heading south the past two weeks. According to figures released by Equibase, total handle was down $2,203,711 Saturday and dipped $928,677 Friday night after a slow Wednesday and Thursday. Wednesday, after you figure in that last year Del Mar had a $1.2 million pick six pool on Day 16 of the meet, Del Mar was down about $1.1 million in handle. Down about $800,000 Thursday.

Meanwhile, the TOC sits and tells us we need to wait a few years before the bigger purses lead to increased handle.

Well, first of all, this sport might not have a few years left. Secondly, it seems the only people happy these days are the owners who are running their horses for these huge purses.

Del Mar, Hollywood Park and Santa Anita have all asked the TOC to lower takeout on doubles and exactas. Track executives see the writing on the wall. Del Mar might be down in all-sources handle between now and Pacific Classic weekend Aug. 27-28.

Meanwhile, the TOC does nothing.

Sad.

Meanwhile, around the rest of the racing world:

* Trainer Bob Baffert, who was looking at the Travers Stakes on Aug. 27 for his talented 3-year-old colt Coil, may be having second thoughts.

On his Twitter account, Baffert tweeted the following on Saturday: “Saratoga main track was so deep today horse fell and injured my gallop boy. Might have to rethink travers.”

I still think it’s better than 50-50 that Coil, impressive winner of the Haskell Invitational on July 31, goes in the Travers. But you can be sure Baffert will not run him if he believes there’s any trouble with the Saratoga track at all.

* Uncle Mo, who missed the Triple Crown series because of illness, worked five furlongs in a bullet 1:00.34 at Saratoga on Sunday morning and seems to be ready for the King’s Bishop Stakes on Aug. 27. Baffert’s The Factor also is still under consideration for the King’s Bishop, a seven-furlong race for 3-year-olds.

* Two of the leading contenders for the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Aug. 28, Twirling Candy and Caracortado, worked over Polytrack on Sunday morning.

Twirling Candy went seven furlongs in 1:25.20 under Joel Rosario and Caracortado drilled six furlongs in 1:11.80 under Joe Talamo.

* Baffert attributed Midnight Interlude’s fourth-place finish in Saturday’s La Jolla Handicap at Del Mar to an unlucky journey.

“That’s turf racing,” Baffert said. “You’ve just got to look forward to the next race. He’ll be fine.”

Baffert indicated the Del Mar Derby on Sept. 4 will be next for the Santa Anita Derby winner.

* It’s a four-way battle royale for the Del Mar riding title. After Sunday’s action, Rafael Bejarano leads defending champion Joel Rosario and Garrett Gomez by one victory, 23-22. Joe Talamo is only one victory further back with 21.

In the trainer standings, John Sadler holds a 12-11 lead over Mike Mitchell, who saddled three winners Sunday.

* Through the first four weeks of the seven-week meet, there have been 159 claims for a total of $3,749,500, or an average of $23,581 per claim. Doug O’Neill leads with 13 claims and Mitchell has taken 11.

Creative Cause faces uphill battle to even make Derby

There is absolutely no doubt that Creative Cause, 1 3/4-length winner of Sunday’s $150,000 Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar, is a very nice colt. He’s been much the best in both of his starts and, seeing as though he’s sired by Giant’s Causeway, should enjoy the added distances.

Mike Harrington, who’s trained a talented 2-year-old or two during his day, was happier for the colt’s owner after the Best Pal than he was for himself.

“This is really special for Mr. Steinmann (owner Heinz Steinmann),” Harrington said. “He spent a lot of money for three horses. I might have a couple better than this one, but you won’t see them for a while. Maybe this fall, maybe next year. We bought them all for 3-year-olds and we’re in no hurry with any of them.”

After Creative Cause won the Best Pal, I told someone in the Del Mar press box that he’s a better bet to not even start in next spring’s Kentucky Derby than he is to make or win the race. It’s just fact. These horses are so fragile and delicate, that’s it’s day to day with all of them. Some regress as the distances get longer on the Road to the Derby next spring.

The odds of one of the top 2-years-old today staying healthy and making it to the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs are not good. It’s a sad reality in this sport.

Want proof?

Well, none of the previous 40 winners of the Best Pal Stakes went on to win the Kentucky Derby, and only seven even ran in the race. Here’s the rundown:

* Lookin At Lucky, 2009 winner of the Best Pal — sixth in the Derby.
* Wordly Manner, 1998 — seventh.
* Timber Country, 1994 — third.
* Best Pal, 1990 — second.
* Purdue King, 1987 — 16th.
* Flying Paster, 1978 — fifth.
* Diabolo, 1974 — third.

I’m hoping like heck that Harrington, Steinmann and Co. put an end to the Best Pal hex by winning the Run for the Roses next May. But I’m also more than ready for the disappointment of not even seeing him enter the starting gate.

While TOC holds firm, Del Mar is having bad week

It was a good first two weeks during the Del Mar meet. The seaside oval was up 4.8 percent in average daily on-track attendance and all-sources handle was down only 0.3 percent. Nothing to dance about, but solid numbers considering some of the figures this industry has been producing in recent years.

But the figures were not so good the first three days of week No. 3.

According to Equibase figures mailed to me, Del Mar was down $2.1 million in all-sources handle for the first two days combined, and it continues to lag far behind Saratoga in exactas handle because of its high takeout on the two-horse bets.

One source said Del Mar’s total handle also was down Friday, and for the week it is down close to 10 percent.

Let’s see, Saratoga, which has a takeout rate of 18.5 percent on exactas, had five exacta pools of more than $300,000 on Wednesday and Thursday. Del Mar, which has a takeout of 22.68 percent on exactas? None. Saratoga had three exacta pools in excess of $200,000 and Del Mar had one. Finally, Del Mar had two exacta pools that totaled less than $100,000. Saratoga? Zilch.

Two and a half weeks ago, Del Mar CEO Joe Harper stood in the press box on opening day and told the media he wanted to see lower takeout rates. Jack Liebau, president of Hollywood Park, wants a lower takeout, as does Santa Anita president George Haines.

The Thoroughbred Owners of California, who received a letter signed by both Liebau and Haines about 10 days ago asking for lower takeout to help increase business, has so far failed to act on the request. Early indications are they are not going to give the tracks what they requested.

“The tracks are trying to do something for the fans and to help their handle, and all the TOC cares about is itself and their purses,” said longtime bettor and horse racing activist Andy Asaro.

The TOC continues to ignore the fact that horse racing needs three separate entities to succeed — the owners, the bettors (fans) and the race tracks. It’s a beautiful sport when all three are working together, but it can be frustrating and harmful when one of the three is looking out only for itself.

The TOC needs to wake up and smell the coffee. Lower the takeout before it’s too late. We’re not watching the movie “Wall Street.” Unlike what Gordon Gekko told us, greed is not good.

Track management seeks reduction in takeout

There are some in the industry who think the Horseplayers Association of North America is a group of crying bettors who should just shut up, wager and be happy with the status quo.

Apparently, track management is not among them.

The Stronach Group and Hollywood Park have sent a letter, dated July 26, to the Thoroughbred Owners of California asking that takeout be reduced for the fall meets at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park on an experimental basis.

For instance, they’ve asked the TOC to:

* Lower takeout for daily doubles to 15.43 percent from their present 22.68 percent.
* Takeout on exactas and quinellas to be reduced from 22.68 percent to 21.68 percent

The letter, signed by both Hollywood Park president Jack Liebau and Santa Anita president George Haines, states: “Santa Anita and Hollywood Park believe that the requested changes are in the best interest of racing in California and that the implementation of the requested changes would be of benefit to all segments of the racing industry, particularly the wagering public.”

Pacific Racing Association, operator of the inaugural Santa Anita autumn meet that begins Sept. 30, requested that the changes also be concurrently effective for its meet in Northern California.

In an email, HANA president Jeff Platt said: “In my opinion the proposed adjustments to the takeout rates are supported not only by Horseplayers, but by the majority of Owners, Trainers, and Track Executives. If the proposed changes are approved California Racing will be well on their way to pricing their product in a more optimal way – which will ultimately lead to increased handle and bigger purses.”

So the ball is in the TOC’s court. We’ll see what they do with it.

Frankel best we’ve seen? Hold your horses

Two quick points — (1) I’m glad there’s a quality race horse out there that was named after Bobby Frankel, one of the three or four greatest trainers I’ve ever seen; (2) the 3-year-old colt Frankel is an outstanding horse. You’d have to be crazy or a member of Congress to believe otherwise.

When the son of Galileo won the Group 1 Sussex Stakes at Goodwood Racecourse in England on Wednesday by five lengths over Canford Cliffs — a horse that has won five Group 1 races and defeated the champion mare Goldikova earlier this year — he demonstrated his greatness and showed, at the moment, he’s the best race horse in Europe.

Heck, we’re talking about a horse that is 8 for 8 and has won his races by a total of about 41 1/2 lengths. He runs the opposition off their feet.

But, let’s not go overboard like his trainer, Sir Henry Cecil, and proclaim him “probably the best you’ve seen.”

Let’s be a little realistic here.

First off, he’s never raced beyond a mile. He’s won five races at eight furlongs and three at seven. No mile and a half. No mile and a quarter. Heck, not even a mile and a sixteenth.

Half of his victories have come in Group 1 races. Yes, that’s impressive, but hardly worthy of the tag Best of All-Time.

Want to convince us he’s the best of all-time?

Stop saying the Breeders’ Cup is probably not in Frankel’s plans in 2011 and send him to Churchill Downs for a dream matchup against Goldikova in the Breeders’ Cup Mile on Nov. 5. The reigning European Horse of the Year has won a record three consecutive Breeders’ Cup Miles. If Frankel could stop that streak, then maybe we’ll consider that Horse of All-Time label.

Until then, Frankel is just an oustanding race horse that has not accomplished anything close to Goldikova’s historic Breeders’ Cup streak.

Now, THAT’S greatness.

There’s never a dull week at Del Mar

Here are a few of the highlights concerning the opening week of Del Mar’s 72nd season:

* Victor Espinoza’s spill in Sunday’s ninth race could have been a lot worse than it turned out. Espinoza was down for quite a while after his mount, Be Driven, broke her left front leg and went down, causing a chain reaction that led to two other horses falling. Be Driven had to be euthanized, the other two jockeys involved — Joel Rosario and Martin Pedroza — were OK and both of the other horses checked out OK with the veterinarian. X-ray of Espinoza’s ankle at Scripps Encinitas Hospital were negative and his agent, Brad Pegram, said he’ll most likely be back in action Wednesday. The fatal injury was the first during racing at this Del Meet meet and the second overall. A horse was injured during training on Friday, July 15, and had to be euthanized. Last summer’s catastrophic numbers at Del Mar were positive. While no one likes to see any of the horses get seriously injured, the fact Del Mar had only five fatalities during 37 days of racing was impressive.

* In a blow to the nation’s older handicap division, trainer Bob Baffert announced Hollywood Gold Cup winner First Dude has a career-ending tendon injury to his front left leg. He also confirmed that Game On Dude, who won the Santa Anita Handicap in March, would run in the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Aug. 28. I’m not sure that Game On Dude’s running style is conducive to Del Mar’s Polytrack, though. He’s more of a front-runner and, while speed was king over Santa Anita’s new dirt track and played fine on Hollywood Park’s Cushion Track, it might not be as effective on Del Mar’s synthetic. If there are any top handicap horses back east that like synthetics — think Student Council in 2007 and Go Between in 2008 — their connections would be wise to consider the Pacific Classic, especially since they’d receive $1,000 for just entering the starting gate as part of Del Mar’s new “Ship and Win” program.

* The track’s three new betting propositions — the pick five, the head-to-head wager and the $50,000 seeded pick six — got off to nice starts. The pick five is as popular as it was at Hollywood Park, where it debuted, and the head-to-head wager, matching Caracortado against Acclamation in Saturday’s Grade I Eddie Read Stakes, had a pool of $31,413. Del Mar’s marketing director, Craig Dado, told the Daily Racing Form he was hoping for a pool of about $40,000, but still not a bad debut for a wager a lot of fans probably don’t even know about yet or find hard to understand. Caracortado went postward at 1-2 in the new head-to-head wager while Acclamation was 7-5. You won if your selection outfinished the other horse, no matter where they finished in the race. The seeded pick six, which adds an extra $50,000 to the pool on Sundays when there is no carryover, is the reason Wednesday’s pick six carryover is so huge. If there was no seeded pick six money involved, the carryover would be $189,490 instead of the $239,490 bettors will take a crack at on Wednesday.

* Del Mar CEO Joe Harper, like many others in the industry, wants to see the takeout lowered in California. The Thoroughbred Owners of California, the main roadblock to a lowering of the takeout, likes to point out that the takeout on win-place-show wagering in California is among the lowest in the country. True enough, but check the handle figures and you’ll see that the majority of money at a racetrack is bet on the exotics — the pick six, pick five, pick fours, pick threes, daily doubles, etc. Many bettors are looking for that big score that can earn them lots more dollars than a $10 win bet on a 2-1 shot in the sixth race. Reader and longtime horseplayer Andy Asaro came up with a good example between Saratoga and Del Mar this past weekend. On Saturay, Saratoga, which has an 18.5 percent takeout on exactas, handled $5.6 million in exacta pools on an 11-race card. Del Mar on the other hand, which has a 22.68 percent takeout on exactas as part of California’s new bill that went into effect this year, handled a little more than $2 million in the exacta pools on a 10-race card. He also reported the daily double pools were much larger at Saratoga than Del Mar, where again the takeout rates are much lower in New York. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

* Rafael Bejarano is off to a strong start, riding nine winners during the first week to open a 9-5 edge over Garrett Gomez and Joe Talamo in the rider standings. Bejarano lost the Del Mar jockey chase to Joel Rosario in the last race of the meet last summer and it looks like he’s determined to win it all this year. Chantal Sutherland, who’ll become the first woman to ride in the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup and Pacific Classic in the same year if Game On Dude makes it to Del Mar’s signature race this summer, has three wins so far.

* There have been 46 claims during the first five days of the meet, including 16 on opening day and 14 on Friday night. Doug O’Neill leads the way with five claims and Mike Mitchell has four. There were six horses claimed out of Friday night’s sixth race alone, and there was a 19-way shake for Veillit’ — a 4-year-old filly who eventually went to trainer Dean Greenman’s barn after finishing sixth as the even-money favorite in Friday’s third race for $8,000 claimers.