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Game Winner pulls away in stretch to win American Pharoah


ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) — Accelerate got feisty in the starting gate, went wide on the first turn, and waited for his rival before kicking into gear. Then he showed he’s ready for the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Accelerate outdueled West Coast to win the $300,000 Awesome Again Stakes by 2 1/4 lengths at Santa Anita on Saturday in his fourth Grade 1 victory of the year.

Ridden by Joel Rosario, Accelerate already had a guaranteed berth in the $6 million BC Classic as a result of his win in the Pacific Classic in August. The 5-year-old’s fifth victory in six races this year merely solidified his status as the best older horse in the country.

“It’s a good feeling that we might go into the Classic the favorite because I like being the favorite,” winning trainer John Sadler said. “He’s a good horse, doing great and probably the best horse in the country now, clearly. We’ll be ready.”

West Coast was coming off a six-month layoff for trainer Bob Baffert. He hadn’t raced since finishing second in the Dubai World Cup. The 4-year-old colt was the 8-5 second choice in a six-horse field in which all the other runners were listed at double-digit odds.

“He’s got a chance to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic with this race under his belt,” Baffert said. “He made that horse run today. We got beat by a really good horse. This race will really set him up well for the Breeders’ Cup Classic.”

Accelerate paid $2.60, $2.10 and $2.10. He ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.38 after getting fractious in the gate and breaking slowly.

“It’s nice to see all those things that didn’t go his way today, and he still came out on top,” co-owner Kosta Hronis said. “It just shows what kind of horse he is.”

West Coast returned $2.10 and $2.10, while Isotherm was another half-length back in third and paid $6 to show.

Game Winner pulled away in the stretch to win the $300,000 American Pharoah by 4 1/2 lengths and earn an automatic berth in the BC Juvenile.

The 2-year-old colt trained by Baffert ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.77. Sent off as the 1-5 favorite, Game Winner returned $2.60, $2.20 and $2.10.

Gunmetal Gray returned $2.80 and $2.10, while Rowayton was another length back in third and paid $2.10 to show. Both are trained by Jerry Hollendorfer.

Ridden for the first time by Rosario, Game Winner improved to 3-0 in his young career. The colt was coming off a victory in the Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 3, when he beat Rowayton by 1 1/2 lengths and heavily favored stablemate Roadster by 2 lengths.

Roadster has been regarded as Baffert’s top 2-year-old. However, Game Winner is quickly making a name for himself. He won his career debut by 5 3/4 lengths Aug. 18 at Del Mar and came back 16 days later to score the Futurity upset.

“This horse tipped us off this summer that he was going to be a good one,” Baffert said. “I don’t plan to do too much with him before Breeders’ Cup.”

Game Winner dueled outside Rowayton before taking a short lead into the stretch. He then inched away under urging by Rosario past the eighth pole and pulled away from Gunmetal Gray.

It was Baffert’s eighth career victory in the race previously known as the Norfolk and the FrontRunner Stakes, and renamed this year for his 2015 Triple Crown winner.

“Pretty cool and nice of Santa Anita to name a race after him,” Baffert said.

The BC Juvenile will be run Nov. 2 at Churchill Downs.

In other Breeders’ Cup preps:

— Bellafina romped to a 6 1/2-length victory in the $300,000 Chandelier Stakes under Flavien Prat.

Trained by Simon Callaghan, Bellafina ran 1 1/16 miles without blinkers in 1:44.59 and paid $3.80, $2.80 and $2.10 as the 4-5 favorite. Prat and Callaghan won the race last year.

Vibrance returned $6 and $3.40. Brill was another 4 1/2 lengths back in third and paid $3.40 to show.

Winner of three in a row, Bellafina earned a berth in the BC Juvenile Fillies on Nov. 2.

— Vasilika, the 8-5 favorite, won the $300,000 Rodeo Drive Stakes by a half-length with Prat in the saddle.

Trained and co-owned by Hollendorfer, Vasilika was claimed for $40,000 by her new owners in February and has won eight of nine since, including seven in a row.

She paid $5.20, $3 and $2.40. Vasilika earned an automatic berth to the BC Filly & Mare Turf. However, she would need to be nominated to the race for $100,000. By winning Saturday, that amount was reduced to $60,000 since entry fees are paid as part of the Win and You’re In program.

Paved returned $4 and $2.80, while Cambodia paid $2.40 to show.


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