11/23/2015 1:24PM

More mature Acceptance gets test in Hollywood Derby

Benoit & Associates
This victory in the King Glorious helped Acceptance earn the title of champion California-bred 2-year-old male last year.

A few weeks ago, Acceptance was being prepared for morning exercise when trainer and exercise rider Kenny Black stepped back and took a long look at the colt.

“I went to get on him, and I stopped,” Black recalled last weekend. “I could see how much this colt has grown. It’s like your children. You don’t notice it when you see them all the time, but when you’re away for a couple of days, you notice it.”

Acceptance has developed enough on the racetrack to start in Saturday’s $300,000 Hollywood Derby at Del Mar. The Grade 1 Hollywood Derby is run at 1 1/8 miles on turf and will be the graded stakes debut for Acceptance, the California-bred champion 2-year-old male of 2014.

Acceptance, who races for Judy Johnston and Rob Riggio, has not had much of a 3-year-old season so far. The colt lost for the first time in his career when fourth in the California Cup Derby at Santa Anita in January. He was turned out after that race because of sore shins and returned to racetrack training in July.

By then, a lot had changed around the barn. Owner Bud Johnston had died in the spring, and trainer Don Warren had retired in June because of health issues. Black, who assisted Warren, took over the stable for the Johnston family, which operates Old English Rancho farm in Sanger, Calif.

From the day Acceptance returned, Black has looked forward to races such as the Hollywood Derby.

“He left a kid and came back a man,” Black said of Acceptance during the summer.

The colt made his comeback in the restricted Let It Ride Stakes at a mile on turf at Del Mar on Oct. 31. Acceptance led to the final furlong and was caught by Crittenden, losing by a neck. Crittenden is expected to be part of the Hollywood Derby field.

“I was proud,” Black said. “That was the first time he’d been in a dogfight, and he really impressed me with how hard he tried. A lot of it is his heart.”

The Let It Ride Stakes was Acceptance’s fifth start and first start on turf, a surface Black hopes will be the focus of the colt’s future. Acceptance won all three of his starts at 2, all on dirt, including the Golden State Juvenile at Santa Anita and the King Glorious Stakes at Los Alamitos. Through that time, he was plagued by sore shins, Black said.

“We battled shins on him before he ran,” Black said. “He gutted it out in the first three wins. After the [California Cup] Derby, we stopped on him. I hope he doesn’t go back to the dirt. His stride extends on the grass. He jumps so much further. It’s amazing how much further he reaches. It’s kinder on him.”

Acceptance will need every advantage in what should be an ultra-competitive running of the Hollywood Derby. The race could have as many as 14 runners and is expected to be led by Om, who won the Del Mar Derby in September and the Twilight Derby at Santa Anita last month.

Om races on the lead, as has Acceptance in several of his races. Black is hoping Acceptance won’t duel with Om in the Hollywood Derby.

“I’ve been putting two-mile gallops into him for months,” Black said. “He responds. He’s letting horses pass him in the morning, which he wouldn’t do before.”

The test will arrive on Saturday, which is already sure to be a special day for Black. The former jockey will celebrate his 52nd birthday and will have family and friends at Del Mar, hoping for a memorable afternoon.

“Wouldn’t that be a hell of a birthday present?” he said.