06/10/2010 11:00PM

Maturity enables Acclamation to step up

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - There were clues throughout 2009 that Acclamation was capable of reaching racing's highest level. He was second in the Grade 2 Del Mar Derby and third in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby in the final four months of the year, tantalizingly close to a stakes win but failing to carry his speed to the line.

The questions have changed this spring. Acclamation has no trouble staying in front. Now, it's a matter of how much further improvement the 4-year-old Acclamation can show.

Owned by breeders Bud and Judy Johnston, Acclamation won his first stakes in his 11th try in the Grade 2 Jim Murray Handicap over 1 1/2 miles on May 15. He essentially repeated the performance with a front-running win in the Grade 1 Charles Whittingham Handicap over 1 1/4 miles on June 5.

Bud Johnston visited Acclamation at trainer Don Warren's stable at Santa Anita last Wednesday, and was amazed at how the colt handled his latest win.

"We can hardly keep him on the ground," he said. "He came out of it exceptionally well. He's really becoming a nice horse."

Acclamation's win in the Whittingham, by a comfortable 1 1/2 lengths, made the colt the second California-bred to win a Grade 1 race this year. The 3-year-old filly Evening Jewel won the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland in April.

In the near future, Acclamation may start again at Hollywood Park or in New Jersey. Johnston said the $750,000 United Nations Stakes, a Grade 1 over 1 3/8 miles on turf on July 3, or the $150,000 Sunset Handicap over 1 1/2 miles on turf here on July 18 are being considered.

Bud Johnston credited Acclamation's recent success to a case of growing up.

"He was a 4-year-old 14 days before the race the other day," Johnston said. "He just turned 4! We saw a big difference in his maturity in the last three or four months."

Acclamation was bred at the Johnstons' Old English Rancho in Sanger, Calif., the product of the mating of Unusual Heat and Winning in Style, an unraced mare bred by Old English Rancho.

Unusual Heat was the leading stallion in California by progeny earnings in 2008 and 2009, and is on course to claim that title this year. Through Wednesday, Unusual Heat had 2010 progeny earnings of $2,096,483, well clear of second-place Stormin Fever, with $1,208,193. Unusual Heat set a record for single-season progeny earnings by a California stallion of $5,827,513 in 2008 and had earnings of $5,184,194.

Unusual Heat, a 20-year-old horse by Nureyev, stands for $20,000 and was bred to approximately 80 mares this year, Johnston said.

Acclamation has won 4 of 19 starts and $497,048. She is the most successful of Winning in Style's foals, which includes the stakes-placed Strut Your Stuff ($233,137) and Always in Style ($108,498).

"I have six females that are either out of his dam or daughters of his dam," Johnston said. "Most of them are in foal to Unusual Heat. Wonder why?"