Whicker: Accelerate is turning Del Mar into his home court
DEL MAR — Lookin At Lucky was aptly named. Every time the horse looked up, luck was running somewhere else.
He was named Horse of the Year in the 2-year-old division and the 3-year-old division, in 2010 and 2011, and no horse had done that since Spectacular Bid (1978-79). He won the 2010 Preakness and six other major stakes.
But several bad moons rose to separate Lookin At Lucky from greatness.
He was the favorite in the Kentucky Derby but drew the No. 1 post position on a muddy day. “He got slammed into the rail and that was it,” said trainer Bob Baffert, who, on race day, said he quit watching the race “after the first bump.”
Lookin at Lucky was sick for the Breeders’ Cup Classic and was forced to take the scenic route when he lost the Santa Anita Derby.
He retired shortly afterward and tried his luck at breeding.
“Now he’s becoming the poor man’s Curlin,” John Sadler said. “His colts are affordable. Curlin’s not affordable anymore.”
One of those colts is Accelerate, trained by Sadler, who ran in the San Diego Handicap here on July 22 and caused lots of money to change hands.
Accelerate was supposed to serve as batting practice for Arrogate, Baffert’s Breeders’ Cup Classic champ and reigning Horse of the Year . Arrogate was a ridiculous 1-to-20 favorite. Bettors laid $2.4 million on him, including a $200,000 show bet from a New York horseplayer.
It was a blowout, all right. Accelerate ran his race. Arrogate left his somewhere else, maybe in the trophy case. Accelerate won by 8½ lengths. Arrogate was fourth.
Baffert said Arrogate “laid an egg” and jockey Mike Smith said he “didn’t try today.”
This thickens the plot of Saturday’s Pacific Classic, which, in most years, is Del Mar’s Derby Day. In November, the track plays host to its first Breeders’ Cup.
But Saturday is no dress rehearsal, and invincibility is something a horse can only lose once. Arrogate is still the favorite, at even-money when Del Mar held its draw on Tuesday. He proved himself at the Travers, the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the Dubai World Cup and the Pegasus. When you lose, they ask you to prove it again.
“My thought when I came out of the paddock that day was that the race was going to be closer than people thought,” said Sadler, Accelerate’s trainer. “Arrogate had been to Dubai and back. Sometimes that doesn’t go perfect, for a lot of reasons. And the distance (a mile) was probably in our favor. Arrogate likes to go a mile and an eighth or a quarter.”
Accelerate got the lead and Arrogate lurked on the backstretch. Everything seemed normal as they entered the far turn.
“But we were running easy,” Sadler said. “I knew he’d have to get us late. I peeked at him and he wasn’t running fast enough. Coming for home, I said to myself that they can’t catch us today.”
And another big crowd was reminded that horse racing is not death and taxes.
Is it the track? Del Mar is deeper than other tracks. Arrogate won there last year. More to the point, Accelerate is 3 for 3 at Del Mar.
“I remember when Mike was riding Zenyatta and he would say how much she hated Del Mar,” Baffert said. “Then she would come out and blow everybody away.”
“The first time we ran Accelerate long last year,” Sadler said, “he ran easy. He showed a lot of proclivity right off the bat. Is it the surface (at Del Mar) or the summer air? He’s an improving horse that’s run against good competition. He was third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic last year and could have been second. We figured it was time to see him in the big one and he responded.”
The early line had Accelerate at 3-to-1. But he and Arrogate have company. Baffert is bringing Collected, who has won all three 2017 starts and has six wins overall. On June 24, he won the Precisionist Stakes by a cool 14 lengths, with Accelerate third.
This will be Collected’s first shot at a mile and a quarter and his second race at Del Mar, where he finished second in the Cecil B. DeMille as a 2-year-old. He was the 5-2 second choice.
“Collected has been running really well down here,” Sadler said. “In my mind he’s the horse to beat.”
Accelerate and Collected will break from the 2 and 3 gates, both with early speed, while Arrogate is perched at No. 8 on the far outside.
City Zip, who sired Collected, won four races. All were shorter than a mile. Heredity, and its mysteries, is only one of the things that makes horse racing so inscrutable. Sadler just hopes luck can skip a generation.
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