July 25, 2024

Acclimate regains San Juan Capistrano crown

Acclimate and jockey Ricardo Gonzalez win the San Juan Capistrano Stakes (Benoit Photo)

The hero of the 2019 San Juan Capistrano S. (G3) who missed last year’s running, Acclimate regained his crown with a similar frontrunning display in Saturday’s $100,500 renewal. The Phil D’Amato veteran became the seventh two-time winner of the marathon, a feat most recently accomplished by Bourbon Bay in 2010 and 2012.

D’Amato was winning for the third straight year, since Red King captured the 2020 edition in Acclimate’s absence. Both stablemates squared off here, with Acclimate going off as the slight 2-1 favorite from the 2.10-1 Red King.

Under Ricky Gonzalez, Acclimate went straight to the lead and never looked back. The Acclamation gelding set a genuine tempo for the about 1 3/4-mile distance, clocking fractions of :23.43, :48.19, 1:11.56, 1:35.48, and 2:00.30. The tandem of Ward ‘n Jerry and Pillar Mountain stalked, until the latter gave way on the final turn. Ward n’ Jerry boxed on but couldn’t maintain his position.

The two who had been at the rear early, Astronaut and the longtime trailer Red King, were on the move. Astronaut launched an eye-catching rally that suggested he could pose a challenge in the stretch. But the pacesetter wasn’t done.

As soon as Acclimate straightened for home and switched leads on cue, the seven-year-old maintained his momentum, and even padded his margin. The California-bred crossed the wire 3 3/4 lengths clear in a final time of 2:49.74.

Astronaut was best of the rest by 1 1/4 lengths from Red King. Ward n’ Jerry checked in fourth, followed by Lure Him In and the eased Pillar Mountain.

Gonzalez said that the tactics were simple:

“Just get him in front, nice and comfortable is where he likes to be. Just keep the other horses away from him, and he’s as happy as he could be.”

“I’m elated really,” D’Amato said. “This horse, he’s been through the highs and lows and he’s bounced back. He’s just an old warrior and he gave it his all today. It’s just a beautiful thing to watch.

“It means everything, it’s a credit to all my staff, exercise riders, my assistants and definitely the owners and especially Ricky.

“Ricky did a masterful job of maintaining the distance and setting those comfortable fractions to have enough horse left. It’s a credit to him and the horse.  To dial those fractions in the way he did, Ricky rode like a seasoned veteran at this distance.

“The San Juan Capistrano was my favorite race growing up. When I was a kid coming to the races, this is the race I always came to see.”

Bred by Old English Rancho, Sal Berumen, and Patsy Berumen, Acclimate races for the Ellwood Johnston Trust, Timmy Time Racing, and Ken Tevelde. His scorecard of 25-7-4-4, $557,872, reflects his two San Juan Capistrano titles along with a victory in the 2019 Del Mar H. (G2). He was runner-up in that fall’s John Henry Turf Championship (G2) before a ninth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1).

Sidelined for a year, Acclimate resumed with an encouraging fourth in the Hollywood Turf Cup (G2). He has placed in four stakes this term, notably the San Marcos (G2) and the Charles Whittingham (G2) last out, where he was just denied by a head.

“I thought this was an ‘A’ performance for him today,” D’Amato noted, “and this is a horse that I would target for the Del Mar H. He has been lightly raced. We gave him a short break and he has come back better than ever.”

Judy Johnston, who co-bred Acclimate in the name of Old English Rancho, was delighted with her homebred.

“He still has it! He took a little time off at the ranch. He liked his vacation, but he likes to run better,” Johnston said. “This horse is very special because we race him and we raced his dad. His dad ran just like he does – they like to get in front and try to dare somebody to catch them, and nobody caught him today.”

Acclimate was produced by the Boundary mare Knows No Bounds, who hails from the further family of Canadian champion Hollinger and Grade 2 winner Something Lucky.

The San Juan anchored a four-stakes program on Saturday. The stakes action kicked off with the $82,950 Siren Lure S., won in last-to-first fashion by Wertheimer et Frere’s homebred Kanderel. Next came Cal-restricted stakes for sophomores. The 15.70-1 Jimmy Blue Jeans upset the $152,000 Snow Chief S., while 2-1 favorite Fi Fi Pharoah closed from last to take the $151,000 Melair S.