06/17/2011 11:57AM

Acclamation may be Bud Johnston's ticket to Hollywood Gold Cup


INGLEWOOD, Calif. – At 74, California breeder Bud Johnston may be on the verge of a longtime goal, winning the Hollywood Gold Cup.

On July 9, the Gold Cup will be run for the 72nd time at Hollywood Park, and Johnston may have a candidate in Acclamation, the multiple stakes-winning California-bred. From a national perspective, the Gold Cup may be one of several Grade 1 races on a crowded stakes schedule for older horses, but for Johnston, a California native, it is high on his list of trophies he has coveted.

“I’ve never won it and it’s always been one of my desires to win it,” he said on Thursday.

Acclamation may provide that chance. This spring, Acclamation has won two graded stakes on turf at Hollywood Park for the second consecutive year – the Grade 2 Jim Murray Handicap over 1 1/2 miles on May 14 and the Grade 1 Charles Whittingham Handicap over 1 1/4 miles on June 11.

Whether Acclamation starts in the Gold Cup over 1 1/4 miles on the synthetic main track depends on how the 5-year-old horse works on the surface last this month.

“I’m going to take him over there and work him at Hollywood Park,” Johnston said. “We’ll see how he likes it and how he handles it. We are considering it.”

Trained by Don Warren, Acclamation is by Unusual Heat out of Winning in Style, a mare by Silveyville. Acclamation was Winning in Style’s final foal; she is pensioned at Johnston’s Old English Rancho in Sanger, Calif. The mare also produced the stakes-placed runners Strut Your Stuff ($233,137) and Always in Style ($135,902).

Acclamation has won 6 of 25 starts and $758,048, racing primarily on turf. He has not started on Hollywood Park’s main track since Nov. 30, 2008, when he finished seventh in a sprint for 2-year-olds. Since then, Acclamation has started in races at a mile or farther, won four stakes on turf and placed in five others on turf, synthetic tracks and dirt.

A back-up plan in the immediate future is the $750,000 United Nations Handicap over 1 3/8 miles on turf at Monmouth Park on July 2, a race in which Acclamation finished a disappointing ninth in 2010.

The Johnston family has come close to winning Southern California’s most important races for older horses. In 1989, Stylish Winner, co-owned by Johnston, finished third in the Santa Anita Handicap. Johnston could not recall this week the last time he had a Gold Cup runner.

“It’s been too long since we had a horse in it,” he said. “I would like to run him in that race if he can handle the racetrack.

“He seems to work well over the dirt racetrack. The thing that is encouraging to me is that there are a number of Unusual Heats that have handled that track well. It’s horses for courses, but it’s not always a cinch.”

Repeatedly this spring, Johnston has said that Acclamation is in the best form of his career. Acclamation won the Murray by seven lengths, after stalking a runaway pacesetter, and won the Murray by 3 1/2 lengths as a heavy favorite, leading throughout.

The results are a turnaround from a last-place finish in the Charles Town Classic on a sloppy sealed track in West Virginia in April.

“He couldn’t handle that mud when we sent him back east,” Johnston said. “I’ve already forgotten about it. I forgot about it three days after.

“He’s already given us a lot of thrills. He’s such a nice sound horse. I think he’s just reaching his peak.”