10/03/2011 4:39PM

Acclamation's team faces Cup choice

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Benoit & Associates
Acclamation (right), with Patrick Valenzuela riding, defeats Champ Pegasus in the Clement Hirsch.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Throughout the year, owner Bud Johnston and trainer Don Warren have debated which races to run Acclamation in, and at every turn, their decision has been spot-on, Acclamation's win streak reaching five in the Clement Hirsch Stakes on Sunday at Santa Anita.

But now Johnston and Warren face their most important decision yet with Acclamation. He is headed to the Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs for a race on Nov. 5, and though the Breeders' Cup Turf is the likeliest and most obvious option for Acclamation, the Breeders' Cup Classic remains a possibility.

The stakes could not be higher.

If Acclamation runs in the Turf and wins, he could capture the Eclipse Award for male turf horse.

But if Acclamation runs in the Classic, and defeats a field now expected to include Havre de Grace, Uncle Mo, Flat Out, Tizway, and Stay Thirsty, he would emerge as the leading candidate for Horse of the Year.

Even if Acclamation wins the Turf, however, he likely would forgo a chance for Horse of the Year unless an improbable longshot won the Classic.

And if he runs in the Classic and loses, he could come away without any year-end hardware despite his heretofore stellar 2011 record.

That will keep both men up at night over the next several weeks.

At the moment, Johnston and Warren are leaning toward the Turf, the surface over which Acclamation has won four graded stakes this year, including the Grade 2 Hirsch and a pair of Grade 1 races. Both men believe, though, that Acclamation prefers firm turf, and if it rains in Louisville the week of the Breeders' Cup, that would bring them pause.
"If it rains a lot and the turf track gets deep, we may shift back and run in the Classic," Johnston said following the Hirsch.

"The weather will play a factor," Warren said. "We think we would like to have a shot at firm turf. If it's soft, the Euros would have an advantage."

Dirt presents a whole new set of challenges. Acclamation has raced just twice on dirt, and is winless. The last time he tried it, he finished last of 10 on a sloppy, sealed track in the Charles Town Classic in April. Since then, Acclamation has won five straight graded stakes races, including a victory on Polytrack in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic. Acclamation, Havre de Grace, and Cape Blanco are the only horses with three Grade 1 wins this year.

Acclamation ran in the Hirsch after being considered for the Goodwood Stakes on dirt on Saturday. In August, he ran in the Pacific Classic instead of the Del Mar Handicap on turf. And in July, he bypassed the Hollywood Gold Cup on dirt and Sunset Handicap on turf to await the Eddie Read at Del Mar, which he won. Every move has proven to be the right one.

Acclamation is California's most accomplished representative in this year's Breeders' Cup, particularly so in light of Blind Luck being taken out of consideration for the Nov. 4 BC Ladies' Classic following her shockingly dull effort in the Lady's Secret on Saturday.

Jerry Hollendorfer, her trainer and co-owner, said Blind Luck is going to get a vacation, "whether she needs one or not."

Hollendorfer said he had yet to find a reason for her lackadaisical effort. "Nothing at all," he said. Included in her postrace evaluation was an endoscopic test to see if she had bled, but Hollendorfer said that, and all other tests, had thus far turned up nothing.

Zazu and Ultra Blend, the one-two finishers in the Lady's Secret, are both heading to the Ladies' Classic. Champagne d'Oro, who finished fourth, will turn back to the BC Filly and Mare Sprint. Also headed to the Ladies' Classic is Plum Pretty, who left town to win the Cotillion at Parx on Saturday.

Creative Cause, Drill, and Ruler of Dubai - the first three finishers in the Norfolk Stakes on Saturday - are all pointing to the BC Juvenile.

Game On Dude, the Goodwood winner, will run next in the BC Classic. Goodwood runner-up Awesome Gem could run in the Classic, or the BC Dirt Mile. Regardless, a start for Awesome Gem would be his fifth straight in a Breeders' Cup race, tying a record held by Kona Gold, Better Talk Now, and Perfect Drift.

Dubawi Heights and Cozi Rosie, the first two finishers in the Yellow Ribbon, are certain for the BC Filly and Mare Turf, while third-place finisher Harmonious is also possible.
Champ Pegasus, who finished second to Acclamation in the Hirsch, is headed to the BC Turf, in which he ran second last year.

Weemissfrankie and Candrea, who ran one-two in the Oak Leaf, will point to the BC Juvenile Fillies, while third-place finisher Charm the Maker is possible.
Also prominent among California-based Breeders' Cup hopefuls is Twirling Candy, who skipped the Goodwood but is pointing to either the Classic or the Dirt Mile.

- additional reporting by Steve Andersen