Saturday’s $300,000 San Diego Handicap (GII) at Del Mar was supposed to be the triumphant return of America’s best racehorse in Arrogate, but, instead, it turned into one of the greatest upsets in recent memory as Hronis Racing’s Accelerate posted an impressive wire-to-wire victory in the 1 1/16-mile main track test, defeating the heavily favored division leader Arrogate, who finished a flat and uncharacteristic fourth in the field of five.
Under jockey Victor Espinoza and with blinkers for the first time, the John Sadler-trained Accelerate sped right to the lead and never looked back, logging all the pace in splits of :23.49, :47.06, 1:11.39 and 1:35.78 before cruising to a 8 ½-length romp in a final time of 1:42.15. Hronis Racing, Sadler and Espinoza teamed up to post another recent upset of a fan-favored champion with champion Stellar Wind, who defeated millionaire Beholder in last year’s Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (GI) over the same track.
Donworth held on to second and was 2 ½ lengths ahead of Cat Burglar across the wire.
Arrogate, who broke last and was placed well behind the pace in the early going, made a mild rally as he rounded the far bend but was out of gas by the time he hit the quarter pole and continued on to the wire with jockey Mike Smith standing in his irons. El Huerfano, who stumbled coming out of the gate causing jockey Evin Roman to lose his irons, completed the order of finish after Dalmore was scratched.
“I was surprised by how far I won,” Espinoza said. “I wasn’t surprised that I did, I was here to win. I thought I’d sit second or third, but when that speed horse [El Huerfano] stumbled at the start, I made an easy lead. [Accelerate] got in a nice rhythm, he was going easy. He’s a nice horse. I hope he can go on so we can look at the Pacific Classic (GI) [on Aug. 19].”
“He trained really well Sunday up at Santa Anita and showed a lot of pop when Victor worked him from the gate and they kept telling me it was $50,000 for second,” Sadler said. “You want to win, you don’t want to concede anything. But I’m surprised we won because Arrogate is the best horse in the world. A couple of things went right for us and one of them was that Arrogate didn’t fire his best. That’s what has to happen for the big upsets.”
Accelerate was bred in Kentucky by Mike Abraham and was a $380,000 Keeneland September yearling in 2014. Last year’s Los Alamitos Derby (GII) winner earned $180,000 for his most recent victory to bring his career earnings to $607,480 and his line reads 12-4-3-4.
At odds of nearly 8-1, Accelerate paid $17.60, $32.60 and $22. Donworth paid $119.80 and $67.40, which are Del Mar records for place and show payouts. Cat Burglar paid $38.20. A total of $2,671,938 was bet to win, place and show, of which $2,457,472 was wagered on Arrogate. He was officially 1-20 at post time.
Trainer Bob Baffert offered few excuse for Arrogate’s defeat saying only that the horse was flat in the paddock and post parade and perhaps he hadn’t trained him hard enough before the race.
He was just flat,” Baffert said. “I knew coming down here can be tough. Maybe I should have blown him out [at Del Mar]. Mike [Smith] said he was just flat and never in the race did he feel he had any horse. The other horse [Cat Burglar] was flat, too. I thought he’d run better than that, but he just didn’t want to go. I think he [Arrogate] just laid an egg. I don’t think it had anything to do with the track. He was just flat.”
“I’m at a loss for words,” the rider said. “He was just flat, so flat. We were going around there OK and then I took him outside like I did in Dubai, but he just didn’t pick it up. So I dropped him inside again and cut the corner then wheeled him outside once more and tried to get something from him. But he was just flat. He wasn’t trying. So I just wrapped up on him and got him home safe. We’ve got to go back and start over again. Get him back to right.”