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ARCADIA, CA – With heavily-favored United in deep water turning for home, Saturday’s $200,000 Charles Whittingham Stakes (G2) boiled down to a pair of longshots: front-running Acclimate and up-and-coming Award Winner.
With Juan Hernandez at the controls, it was the John and Jerry Amerman homebred Award Winner who gradually overhauled the pacesetter and registered a huge head upset.
Trained by David Hofmans, Award Winner got a mile and 1/4 over Santa Anita’s Camino Real Turf Course in 1:59.27.
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Breaking from the rail in a field of four with a hillside start, jockey Ricky Gonzalez sent Acclimate to the lead out of the gate and was running strongly throughout, with a restrained Award Winner about 3 lengths off the lead heading into the far turn.
With United laboring in third position, Award Winner set his sights on Acclimate and he gradually gained the advantage late.
“This was a really big win for us,” said Hernandez. “I knew that horse (Acclimate) had a lot of speed, so I let him go and my horse relaxed. I waited until the 1/4 pole and asked him one time, and he really picked it up and made a huge move in the stretch. I was worried about the other horses, but they never touched us.”
A second condition allowance winner at a mile and 1/4 on turf March 27, Award Winner, a 5-year-old gelding by Ghostzapper out of the Theatrical mare Devine Actress, was off at 6/1 and paid $15.40 and $7.80 with no show wagering.
Based in the Midwest through last summer, Award Winner made his first start for Hofmans on January 8, a second-place finish in a 1-mile turf allowance. With 2 wins from 4 starts at the current meeting, Award Winner is now 17-4-4-1 and with today’s winner’s purse of $120,000, he increased his earnings to $328,474.
“When he first got here, I didn’t think he was gonna like it here,” said Hofmans. “But apparently, he liked it here better than he did back East. Something with the climate here, maybe he likes the warm weather, I don’t know. From Day 1, he just started blossoming.
“Each week, he got stronger, he got heavier, he ate more, and he was enjoying his training. I think it’s just a change in location, which was important to him. I was so happy when John asked me to take the horse. It’s kind of a dream come true.”
The lone California-bred in the lineup, Acclimate, a 7-year-old gelding trained by Phil D’Amato, ran a sensational race in defeat, finishing 2 1/2 lengths in front of Red King. Off at 9/1, Acclimate paid $12.40 to place.
The prohibitive 1/5 favorite, United never got untracked and checked in last, beaten 5 lengths with Flavien Prat up.
“He wasn’t traveling well,” Prat said. “I got no response when I asked him to run.”
Fractions on the race were 23.00, 46.66, 1:10.67 and 1:35.34.
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