06/09/2011 11:43AM

Hollywood Park: Horse-for-course Acclamation formidable in Whittingham

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Acclamation is never more comfortable than racing near the front of a marathon turf stakes at Hollywood Park.

In 2010, he won the Grade 2 Jim Murray and Grade 1 Charles Whittingham handicaps by leading throughout, then lost his next four starts at other tracks before defending his title with a seven-length win in the Murray on May 14. Acclamation will be favored in Saturday’s $250,000 Charles Whittingham Handicap, and once again may set his own pace against five rivals.

“I’d like to petition for racing year-round at Hollywood Park the way he runs,” co-owner Bud Johnston said on Thursday. “He’s coming up to this race great. I was very pleased with the way he ran in the Jim Murray.”

A winner of 5 of 24 starts and $608,048 for trainer Don Warren, Acclamation has won all of his stakes on Hollywood Park’s turf course. In the Murray over 1 1/2 miles last month, the 5-year-old Acclamation stalked the longshot All Saint before taking over on the turn and pulling clear quickly.

The Whittingham is run over 1 1/4 miles and the reduction in distance is not a major concern for a horse with an improving mind, Johnston said.

“I think he’s such a kind horse and he’s matured so much more than he was last year,” Johnston said. “He seems to be willing to do whatever we want him to do. I think he’s a better horse this year and hope he goes on and proves me correct.”

Acclamation could face pressure on the front from Celtic New Year, who won a $62,500 claimer at Santa Anita in March and was then third in the Grade 2 San Juan Capistrano Handicap on April 17.

If Celtic New Year attempts to take the lead, Johnston is convinced that jockey Joe Talamo will have a patient mount in Acclamation.

“He will sit behind other horses,” Johnston said. “We train that way all the time. If someone wants to go, let them go. We’re not in a position we have to be in front. It depends on how it unfolds.”

From a class perspective, Bourbon Bay is by far the biggest threat to Acclamation. Trained by Neil Drysdale for David and Jill Heerensperger, Bourbon Bay has won four turf stakes ranging in distances from 1 1/4 to about 1 3/4 miles on turf in the last 16 months, but has not started since finishing a disappointing 11th in the $5 million Sheema Classic in Dubai on March 26.

“I expect him to run a good race,” Drysdale said. “He’s trained back very well. He’s got tactical speed. You don’t have to have a certain pace scenario for him.”

Haimish Hy, the winner of the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby over 1 1/4 miles on turf last November; Falcon Rock, who was second in the Murray; and Red Alert Day, claimed for $32,000 from a win on May 15, race from farther back and could be compromised by a slow pace.