Acclamation getting better with age?

Acclamation, who proved he’s not just a Hollywood Park wonder horse by romping to a 3 1/4-length victory in Saturday’s $300,000 Eddie Read Stakes at Del Mar, has matured quite a bit since last year’s ill-fated run in the Eddie Read when he faded to finish sixth.

“We were looking at pictures of him last year before he ran in the United Nations (Handicap) and he looked like a big 2-year-old,” trainer Donald Warren said. “He didn’t look like he was developed at all. He’s really changed and developed into a mature-looking race horse.”

And now the 5-year-old horse’s connections are hoping he has the stuff to win the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5.

A winner of 7 of 26 lifetime for earnings of $938,048, Acclamation made it three consecutive victories with the Eddie Read score. He won the Grade I Charlie Whittingham Handicap by 3 1/2 lengths on June 11 and the Grade II Jim Murray Handicap by seven lengths on May 14, both at Hollywood Park. He won the same two stakes last year before heading to Monmouth Park for the United Nationals Handicap, a race where he never had the lead and faded to finish last in a nine-horse field.

Acclamation tried to go gate to wire in last summer’s Eddie Read and carved out similar fractions as he did this year. Only this time he drew out in the stretch rather than fading to sixth, beaten 5 1/4 lengths in a race won by The Usual Q.T.

The difference? Either it’s the added maturity or the fact he stayed home this summer. The trip to Monmouth might have taken a little bit too much out of the son of Unusual Heat, who also sired The Usual Q.T.

Warren, who by his count has now won three Grade I races, all by Acclamation, was pleased with the ride by Joel Rosario, who is 2 for 2 aboard the winner.

“He gave him the perfect ride,” Warren said. “He broke a little slow, but he made the lead easy. I like to see him cruising on an easy lead and I always like to see a horse slip away on the last turn like he did. Just done to perfection.”

Said Rosario: “He was very comfortable today. I could see his ears up and going back and forth. He was just having fun out there. This was like when I rode him in that mile and a half (Jim Murrary Handicap) up at Hollywood. He ran the same way that day. So relaxed. He’s a really nice horse.”

Next up for Acclamation?

Most likely the Del Mar Handicap, at 1 3/8 miles on the turf, on Aug. 28. It’s a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” race, meaning a victory would guarantee Acclamation a berth in the Turf and give his connections an extra $10,000 for travel expenses.

Trainers playing the claiming game at Del Mar

The pace will slow down as the Del Mar meet wears on, but at the current rate, there would be about 360 horses claimed this summer at the seaside oval.

Yeah, it’s an absurd number that will never even be approached, but it’s interesting to note the number of claims through the first four days of this 37-day meet.

Forty — count ‘em, 40!!!! — horses have been claimed so far, including six in the sixth race, a $10,000 claiming event for horses 3-years-old and older, on Friday night.

Mike Mitchell leads the way, having claimed three in the first three races on opening day and four overall. A number of trainers have claimed three horses so far, including Steve Knapp; Paul Aguirre, who took two in one race; Jack Carava; Doug O’Neill; and Adam Kitchingman.

Overall, 16 horses were claimed opening day, five on Thursday, 14 on Friday night and five more Saturday.

There were signs this could happen at the recently concluded Hollywood Park spring-summer meet, where claims were up significantly over 2010.

On Friday, Hollywood Park reported a total of 195 claims during its 54-day meet. The total cost of those purchases was $4,206,500.

Both numbers were up considerably over the 57-day spring-summer meet a year earlier when there were 151 claims for a total cash outlay of $3,120,000.

It was Ladies Day at Del Mar

When Kayla Stra and Chantal Sutherland won races on opening day at Del Mar on Wednesday, it maked the first time in track history that two female jockeys won races on the same day.

Stra won the second aboard King Ledley ($18) for trainer Gus Headley and Sutherland came back four races later to score on Mentidoso ($38.40) for Vann Belvoir.

Sutherland returned Thursday to win aboard Certified Diamond, another Belvoir-trained runner, in the fourth for a $13.80 payoff. The Sutherland-Belvoir combo is two for two at this meet and three for four lifetime.

The victory aboard Mentidoso was the first at Del Mar for Sutherland, who had ridden only three races previously at the seaside oval. Stra, who began riding at Del Mar in 2008, had won previously at the track.

“I know Chantal was happy for Kayla,” said Brian Beach, Sutherland’s agent.

Earlier this week, Sutherland told me all three regular female riders on the Southland circuit, Joy Scott included, pull for each other.

“I think girls always kind of root for each other, especially the three of us,” the Canadian native said. “We get along really well in the room. They’re really nice girls. I’m happy to see that Kayla is starting to pick up more business and she’s doing good, and Joy is just wonderful to have around and I always hope the best for her.”

Through the first two days of the meet, Sutherland was one of only five jockeys to win two or more races. Rafael Bejarano was atop the rider standings with three wins and Joel Rosario, the defending riding champ, was winless in 10 tries.

Certifield Diamond was the first horse to win a race under Del Mar’s new “Ship and Win” program, which makes a horse eligiible for a 20 percent bonus on top of purse money won if its previous race was run out of state.

The 4-year-old Tahoe City gelding ran previously at Emerald Downs in Washington, meaning in addition to the $12,000 winner’s share, owner Walter Thompson received a $2,400 bonus.

Thompson also received an additional $1,000 bonus for starting Certified Diamond in the $8,000 claiming event.

HANA meets with TOC, Stronach Group officials

Jeff Platt, president of the Horseplayers Association of North America, and two other HANA officials met with Thoroughbred Owners of California president Lou Raffetto and executives from The Stronach Group on Thursday morning.

Platt, Barry Meadow and Roger Way of HANA and longtime horseplayer Andy Asaro represented the horseplayers at a meeting that was held to discuss ways the TOC, Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields can alleviate some of the concerns that have caused many around the nation to boycott California racing after takeout on two-horse exotics was raised 2 percent to 22.68 percent and three-or-more horse exotics were raised 3 percent to 23.68 at the beginning of the year.

“We had what I felt was a very promising meeting this morning,” Platt said.

Greg Avioli, president/CEO of The Stronach Group; Santa Anita president George Haines; Santa Anita marketing director Allen Gutterman; and Golden Gate general manager Robert Hartman represented The Stronach Group.

“By the end of the meeting we came away with several tangibles (suggestions from horseplayers) that if implemented have a good chance of leading to increases in both on-track and off-track business for them,” Platt said.

Platt said Ruffetto and Stronach Group officials are expected to respond to HANA’s proposals in the next few days.

On Wednesday, Del Mar CEO Joe Harper said he was in favor of the takeout being lowered. Asked if any changes could be made between now and the end of the meet on Sept. 7, Harper was non-commital.

“It is possible,” he said. “The probability of it, I don’t know until we have a few more meetings with (horsemen).”

Santa Anita’s average daily all-sources handle was down 9 percent this past year and Hollywood Park, which just completed its 54-day spring-summer meet on Sunday, showed a 2.4 percent decline.

Few track officials are willing to guess how much the players’ boycott has affected the handle in Southern California, but none are willing to completely dismiss the adverse effect it’s had at the betting windows.

“I can’t come close to quantifying it, but it’s had an effect,” said Tom Robbins, Del Mar’s executive vice president for racing. “I think there are people out there that pay close attention to it with the social networking going on, where maybe 10 years ago it would have been difficult.

“Those folks have done a pretty good job at telling the story in terms of what tracks charge in terms of takeout. So I gotta believe it’s had an effect.”

Tidbits from opening day at Del Mar

This and that from opening day of the summer meet at Del Mar:

* Joe Talamo, who’s as enthusiastic on Twitter as he is in person, won the first race of the season, rallying with 4-1 shot Price for trainer Howard Zucker. If you have a twitter account and don’t follow Talamo, you should start.

* Mike Mitchell claimed horses out of the first two races — Times Gone By in the first for $40,000 and Isle of Prado in the second for $25,000.

* It was Kayla Stra and not Chantal Sutherland who became the first female jockey to win a race at the meet. Stra won the second with King Ledley, for trainer Gus Headley, at odds of 8-1.

* The inaugural pick five pool at Del Mar was a whopping $348,428. Very impressive.

* Nice to see Tyler Baze win the third aboard Classy Lion at 6-1. Baze was sidelined most of last summer after an accident behind the starting gate at Del Mar and didn’t return until Hollywood Park’s spring-summer meet.

Excited about Blind Luck-Havre de Grace showdown

I don’t know about you, but I’m eagerly awaiting Saturday’s matchup between 2010 champion filly Blind Luck against her rival, Havre de Grace, in the $750,000 Grade II Delaware Handicap at Delaware Park.

The two talented 4-year-old fillies have squared off five times previously, with Blind Luck getting the best of it three times. Their lone meeting this year came in the Azeri Stakes at Oaklawn Park in March, when Havre de Grace breezed to a 3 1/2-length victory.

Havre de Grace is unbeaten in three starts in 2011 and could become the leader in the Horse of the Year race with a victory in the Delaware Handicap, but it’s going to be tough. Havre de Grace (124 pounds) is spotting Blind Luck (122) weight, and whereas the Azeri Stakes was only 1 1/16 miles, the Delaware race is 1 1/4 miles, which is right up Blind Luck’s alley.

Blind Luck also has the services of the best money rider in the country, Garrett Gomez. Not to say Ramon Dominguez, who’ll be aboard Havre de Grace, is any slouch, but I’ll take Gomez in a big race like this one. It was only last November when he guided Blame to an upset victory over the previously undefeated Zenyatta in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs.

Havre de Grace, the 4-5 morning-line favorite, and 7-5 second choice Blind Luck figure to put on quite a show Saturday, and I can hardly wait.

Sassy Image closes like a freight train

Think Sassy Image might be a candidate to win the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint on Nov. 4 at Churchill Downs after this impressive victory?

The Broken Vow filly, trained by Dale Romans, was close to 20 lengths out of it at one point, yet came charging home to win the Princess Rooney Handicap on Saturday at Calder Race Course.

Take a look for yourself. Quite an impressive victory by the 4-year-old with Mike Smith aboard. She went postward as the 8-5 favorite:

Abrams in “excellent” condition following surgery

Best wishes and a speedy recovery to trainer Barry Abrams, who underwent surgery Tuesday to remove cancerous tissue from his throat.

Here’s a release from the Hollywood Park publicity office on how the 57-year-old Abrams is doing following the five-hour operation:

David Abrams, brother of trainer Barry Abrams, reported Wednesday that the trainer came out of surgery Tuesday at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena in excellent condition.

“Overall, the operation went as well as can be expected,” said Abrams of his brother, who had surgery for throat cancer six years ago.

“The doctors were able to save his jugular and carotid artery, but they had to cut a little near his voicebox,” said Abrams. “His voice will be a little more raspy, so he won’t be able to yell at the jockeys as much.”

Abrams said his brother was in good spirits shortly after the surgery. “Two hours after, he was joking and had a real good sense of humor,” he said. “When I told him they were able to save his jugular and carotid, he gave me the thumbs-up. When I told him they had to cut into the voicebox, he gave me the finger.

“Later in the afternoon, he wanted to get a bet down at Indiana Downs.”

Abrams said that his brother might be able to return to his Arcadia home this weekend before being re-evaluated in two weeks. “He will need some radiation,” said Abrams. “And he will have to take thyroid medication for life.

“The doctor said the long-range prognosis is that Barry can live as normal a life as anybody who never had the cancer,” said Abrams.

“We’re hoping that Barry can make the last part of Del Mar,” said Abrams, who lives in San Diego. Assistant Richard Baltas is supervising the 32-horse stable.

Triple Bend winner has connections Smiling

If Smiling Tiger continues to produce performances like his gate-to-wire, 3 1/4-length victory in Saturday’s $250,000 Triple Bend Handicap at Hollywood Park, he’s going to be mighty tough to beat in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint on Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs.

“We’re trying to win the Breeders’ Cup (Sprint) with him,” trainer Jeff Bonde said in the winner’s circle Saturday after the 4-year-old Hold That Tiger colt gained millionaire status with his eighth victory in 16 starts. His third victory without defeat over Hollywood Park’s synthetic Cushion Track improved his career earnings to $1,149,353.

What’s so impressive about Smiling Tiger is that he doesn’t need the lead to win. He carved out quick fractions of 22.29 and 44.95 seconds while winning the seven-furlong Triple Bend, but he came from fifth after breaking poorly to win the Grade III Count Fleet Handicap by 2 1/2 lengths at Oaklawn Park on April 14. Before that, he stumbled at the start of the Grade II San Carlos Handicap at Santa Anita on Feb. 19 and closed to win by a head.

Last year he finished third, beaten only 1 3/4 lengths by Big Drama in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs. But he’s a year older and seems to be even better than he was in 2010.

“He’s very athletic and he has the heart of a warrior,” Bonde said. “He comes to fight every time. He had an easy time of it (in the Triple Bend). Every day he seems to be a better animal. He was like a big, skinny teenager as a young horse and the older he’s gotten he’s put on muscle mass and filled out. He’s become a professional where before he was kind of a goof off as a young guy.”

Bonde plans to follow the same path he traveled with Smiling Tiger last summer, which means he’ll most likely run in both the Bing Crosby (July 31) and Pat O’Brien (Aug. 28) during the Del Mar meet that begins July 20. He won the Bing Crosby by 1 1/2 lengths last year before finishing third in the Pat O’Brien behind El Brujo and Crown of Thorns.

A picture of consistency, Smiling Tiger has finished off the board only once in 16 starts. His lone clunker came in his race before the Triple Bend when he finished sixth, beaten only 2 1/4 lengths, in the seven-furlong Churchill Downs Stakes on Derby day.

“In that race … he broke well, but the horse on the outside wanted to go with me so I tried to settle him and get him to relax,” said jockey Joel Rosario, who has ridden Smiling Tiger in his past four races and won three times. “But I got in trouble the whole way and had nowhere to go. It happens sometimes. It’s part of the game.”

Rosario remembers Dec. 26 when he was aboard Twirling Candy, who broke Spectacular Bid’s track record for seven furlongs while winning the opening-day Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita, and Smiling Tiger finished only a nose behind under Russell Baze.

“It took us a long time to get by the horse,” said Rosario, who no doubt is pleased to have the mount on Smiling Tiger now.

Mosses are 2011 winners of Pincay Award

This is a well-deserved honor for owners Jerry and Ann Moss, two of the classiest people in the game.

Here is the announcement released by Hollywood Park this morning:

JERRY & ANN MOSS WINNERS OF 2011 PINCAY AWARD
INGLEWOOD, Calif. (July 1, 2011) — Jerry and Ann Moss will be presented the eighth annual Laffit Pincay Jr. Award during the Hollywood Gold Cup program Saturday, July 9 at Hollywood Park.

Pincay, a member of racing’s Hall of Fame since 1975, will make the presentation between the fifth and sixth races.

The Pincay Award is presented annually to someone who has served the sport with integrity, extraordinary dedication, determination and distinction.

“Racing owes the Mosses a debt of gratitude for keeping Zenyatta in training for an extra year,” said Pincay. “They have been huge supporters of the sport for a long period of time and have continued to promote racing in numerous ways.

“I was fortunate enough to ride some winners for them during my career. They are very nice people, great to be around and well respected by everyone in every way.”

One of Pincay’s victories for the Mosses came aboard Ruhlmann for trainer Charlie Whittingham in the 1989 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap in what remains a stakes record 1:40 1/5 for the 1 1/16 miles.

The co-founder of A&M Records with legendary musician Herb Alpert, Jerry Moss has been involved as a thoroughbred owner since 1970, owning dozens of stakes winners such as the aforementioned Ruhlmann, Fighting Fit, 2005 Kentucky Derby upsetter Giacomo, Kudos, Sardula and Tiago.

However, Zenyatta is undoubtedly the best horse the Mosses have ever campaigned.

Trained masterfully by John Shirreffs, the remarkable mare became the first female to ever win the Breeders’ Cup Classic, rallying furiously in the final quarter of a mile under regular jockey Mike Smith to prevail in 2009 at Santa Anita.

Returned to training after a brief retirement to race as a 6-year-old, Zenyatta nearly repeated in the Classic, missing by a nostril to Blame, but was still voted Horse of the Year. The daughter of Street Cry retired with 19 victories in 20 starts and a female record $7,304,660 in earnings.

The Mosses and Shirreffs were widely lauded for making Zenyatta accessible to the racing public as she was often visited by fans at her Hollywood Park stable. The entire Zenyatta team was given a Special Eclipse Award earlier this year.

In addition to his involvement as an owner, Jerry Moss has served as a member of the California Horse Racing Board since being appointed by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2003.

Ann Moss is an active environmentalist and founder of the Dolphin Connection.

The Pincay Jr. Award was introduced by Hollywood Park in 2004 with esteemed executive and racing publicist Bob Benoit the initial winner.

Trainer Noble Threewitt was the recipient in 2005, while the Stute brothers — Mel and Warren — shared the award in 2006. Owner/breeder Ellwood W. “Bud” Johnston, whose Old English Rancho is one of the most storied names in California racing, won the award in 2007, while distinguished steward Pete Pedersen was the recipient in 2008. Merlin Volzke, who also had a noteworthy career as a steward, became the first former jockey to win the award in 2009. The Oak Tree Racing Association was honored in 2010.

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