Acclamation, 2011 champion older male, will attempt to extend his winning streak to seven this weekend in the July 21 Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar, a race he captured a year ago in wire-to-wire fashion.
Acclamation likes to be on or just off the lead and has used those tactics to rattle off an impressive run of victories that began on May 14 of last year. Of his 10 career victories, nine have been on turf, but it was his gutsy score in the Pacific Classic on Polytrack that opened the door for an Eclipse Award as leading older male.
The 6-year-old Cal-bred horse by Unusual Heat out of the Silveyville mare Winning in Style has been a popular success story and a crowning achievement for trainer Don Warren and Old English Rancho, who have been together for over 35 years. Old English Rancho's E.W. "Buddy" Johnston and his wife, Judy, who bred Acclamation, own the horse in partnership with Peter and Mary Hilvers.
A winner of only two of his first 17 starts, Acclamation finally put it all together, winning the Jim Murray Handicap and Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap at Hollywood Park in the spring of 2010. But he returned to his losing ways, finishing out of the money in his next four starts. His losing streak culminated with a disastrous trip to Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, where he floundered in the slop, finishing 10th in the Charles Town Classic. But he returned to California a new horse and hasn't lost since, winning two more Whittinghams, another Jim Murray, the Eddie Read, Clement Hirsch Turf Championship, and Pacific Classic.
So, how does a horse go from 0-for-8 to 8-for-12? "One day we got the idea we should take the stick away," Warren said. "When we ran him in the Jim Murray for the first time, we told the rider to send him from the start and open a big lead."
He did just that, opening an eight-length lead at odds of 14-1 and won off by himself by 7 1/4 lengths. The horse had been giving his all but was apparently resenting the whip. Once he was allowed to do everything on his own he turned into a different horse.
"He's had an occasional little foot bruise, which you're going to get when you keep them around so long, but he's one of the soundest horses we've ever had," Warren said. "He just needed time to mature, and now he almost seems unbeatable on the turf out here.
"I've had a great association with Old English Rancho. We've waited and waited and waited for a horse like this to come along. We'd rather he came along sooner than this, but I'll take later. (Buddy Johnston) always thought one day he'd have an Eclipse Award-winning horse and I've stuck right by him. We've always gotten along like brothers."
Warren couldn't be happier with the way Acclamation is coming up to the Eddie Read.
"He pulled up good after his last work," he said. "We were very pleased. He cruised along on the backside and finished up his last quarter in :23. We're more concerned with how he pulls up, and he looks good this morning. In April, he would come back and act like he had a sore foot. We did some corrective shoeing after scratching out of the Inglewood, and ever since he's done wonderfully and we haven't had to worry about him at all. His issues seem to be behind him."
Warren isn't sure yet if he's going to try for another Pacific Classic victory, saying it will all depend on how Del Mar's Polytrack is playing.
"Last year the mornings were cool and overcast, and we were much more pleased with the Polytrack than we were the year before," he said. "Last year, my 15-horse stable went injury free. So far, Acclamation looks like he goes over the track very well. We'll play it by ear. We have the option of going in the Del Mar Handicap if we're not satisfied with the Polytrack."