08/28/2011 7:40PM

Replay: Acclamation proves just as good on Polytrack as turf in Pacific Classic

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BENOIT PHOTO
Acclamation, under Patrick Valenzuela, holds off Twirling Candy by a head in the $1 million Pacific Classic.

DEL MAR, Calif. – Acclamation, who in recent months had emerged as the top turf horse in California, can now be regarded as the best horse, period, on the West Coast following his gutsy victory over favored Twirling Candy in the Grade 1, $1 million Pacific Classic before 29,267 on Sunday at Del Mar.

Acclamation ($10.80), deftly nursed along on the front end by jockey Patrick Valenzuela, never surrendered the lead during a protracted stretch drive and prevailed by a head over Twirling Candy, who was four lengths in front of third-place Stately Victor.

Game On Dude, Quindici Man, Tres Borrachos, Don Cavallo, Jeranimo, and Setsuko completed the order of finish. Bourbon Bay and the longshot Great Warrior were scratched.

Acclamation completed 1 1/4 miles on Polytrack in 2:00.61, a track record in the five seasons this track has had the synthetic surface. The only 1 1/4-mile main track race run at Del Mar each summer is the Pacific Classic.

The win was the fourth in a row this year for Acclamation, who had won three previous stakes races on turf, including a pair of Grade 1 races – the Whittingham at Hollywood Park, and the Eddie Read here five weeks ago. With three Grade 1 wins this year, on two different surfaces, Acclamation has put himself in the conversation for Horse of the Year.

As part of the Breeders’ Cup’s Win and You’re In program, the Pacific Classic victory also assures Acclamation of  a berth in this fall’s BC Classic at Churchill Downs.

BREEDERS’ CUP CHALLENGE: Racing schedule, replays, and past winners >>

The decision to move to Polytrack was made by trainer Don Warren and Bud Johnston, the horse’s breeder and co-owner, following a pair of workouts over the Polytrack surface, including a six-furlong move in 1:12.60, with Valenzuela aboard, on Monday.

Valenzuela replaced Joel Rosario, who rode Acclamation in the Eddie Read, but was committed to Twirling Candy for the Pacific Classic.

“Patrick’s a speed-type rider, the best in the world,” Warren said. “When I look for a jock, I look to see if he will fit the horse well.”

Valenzuela fit snugly. The victory was an emotional one for Valenzuela, 48, who won the first Pacific Classic 20 years ago with Best Pal, but whose career has been pockmarked with transgressions. At one point during his personal soap opera, Valenzuela was given a lifetime ban by the California Horse Racing Board, but that was rescinded 13 months ago, and he thanked the CHRB for giving him another chance in post-race comments on television.

Acclamation took the lead immediately leaving the gate and set fractions of 24.57 seconds for the opening quarter-mile, 48.65 seconds for a half-mile, and 1:12.88 for six furlongs. Game On Dude was in closest attendance early, and then Twirling Candy loomed up three paths wide as the field went around the far turn.

“I loved the first quarter and the first half,” Johnston said. “I thought, ‘They’re not going to catch him.’”

“When he left the three-eighths pole,” Warren said, “I thought he’d be tough to get by. He rode him just like I wanted, a length or two in front, holding everybody off.”

Twirling Candy, the 2-1 favorite, tried his best to get past Acclamation, but could not do it.

“He ran a very big race,” said John Sadler, who trains Twirling Candy. “We got the trip we thought he would get. We thought he would pick that horse up, but that horse just out-bobbed him a little bit. But he ran real well.”

Acclamation, 5, is a horse by Unusual Heat out of the Silveyville mare Winning in Style. Bred by Johnston’s Old English Rancho in California, he earned $600,000 for the Pacific Classic victory – his eighth in 27 starts – and increased his lifetime earnings to more than $1.5 million.