LOUISVILLE, Ky. — It was getting late in the day, and trainer John Sadler’s 0-for-43 record at the Breeders’ Cup was starting to loom large.
Expert Eye had run down Catapult to nose him out in the stretch of the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Favored Catalina Cruiser didn’t show up in the Dirt Mile. Sadler might have had the morning line favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but he was beginning to wonder if it just wasn’t his day.
“Oh absolutely. I think that way all the time,” Sadler said. “We’re prepared for the worst and hope for the best. You never know. Horse racing is a great sport.”
Accelerate took care of that notion.
The 5-year-old ran down tiring Dubai World Cup winner Thunder Snow and fended off a challenge from Gunnevera to win the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic by a length. He covered the 1 ¼ mile distance in 2 minutes, 2.93 seconds to extend his lifetime earnings to $5,005,000.
“I’m thrilled, no doubt,” Sadler said. “This is what I do every day, every year for my whole career. In order to get the big one, I couldn’t have asked for a better day.”
Sadler’s calm demeanor hasn’t often changed, even as that zero in the win column grew bigger. Stellar Wind’s loss in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Distaff had to sting in particular, after she lost to Stopchargingmaria by a neck after a troubled trip.
But he didn’t have to say how much it probably meant. His well-wishers did that for him.
“Want to guess how many texts I got?” he asked smiling, before revealing the answer: 102.
The race isn’t just meaningful for Sadler. It could shake up the votes for Horse of the Year honors too.
It would be hard to dethrone Justify, racing’s 13th Triple Crown winner, for the award, but the 3-year-old retired this summer after just six lifetime races against his own age group. Accelerate has won five Grade I races in this year alone.
“That’s for the sportswriters,” Sadler said, laughing when asked to make his case for the award. “For me, I’m prejudiced. To me, he’s Horse of the Year, there’s no doubt. For him to win all those great races, for me to win the Santa Anita Handicap, was probably No. 1 or 2 on my bucket list, being a California guy my whole life. … He’s just a great horse and had a great year.”
It’s rare to see talented colts stay on the track long enough to mature when the more lucrative option is to retire them, which was partially the case with Justify. Accelerate’s connections found no real reason to retire him after his 4-year-old season, and in fact found he was ready to stretch out to longer distances
“I think what has helped him is that he came back at [the age of] 5,” Sadler said. “Me and [owner Kosta Hronis] have a philosophy, at the end of the year we evaluate the horses, and if they’re in good shape and we think they’re going to have another good year, then we continue to race them, because that’s what we do and it’s what we enjoy. He came out of his race last year with a quarter crack and we fixed that. … This year it seems like at 5 he’s more ready to go those long distances. … It’s a tribute to him”
Accelerate’s connections plan to run him in the $9 million Pegasus World Cup on Jan. 26 to cap his career before he retires to Lane’s End Farm to begin his stud career.
Enable makes history
No horse has ever won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and a Breeders’ Cup race, and Enable had to work for every bit of that honor, going wide around the field and then dueling Magical down the length of the stretch to win by 1 ¾ lengths. The 4-year-old filly has now won nine straight races and has two wins in the Arc de Triomphe on her resume.
“She was wonderful,” said trainer John Gosden. “I thought coming into the straight when Ryan came up on her, we had a race on our hands. She’s had a hard race, and as usual she showed enormous courage to go and win.”
Game Winner an early Derby favorite
Although the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile-to-Kentucky Derby road flops more often than it pans out, it’s likely Game Winner will be an early favorite for the Derby with his 2 ½ length win on Friday. He was the fourth Juvenile winner for Bob Baffert, who also trained Vindication (2002), Midshipman (2008) and New Year’s Day (2013) to wins in that race. Baffert said Game Winner will get a rest before pointing toward the races again in the spring.
Monomoy Girl concludes tough campaign
Favored Monomoy Girl fended off Blue Prize to win Saturday’s $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff, concluding the end of a lengthy campaign that saw her win five Grade I races.
“She ran the way she was training,” said trainer Brad Cox. “She was training like a monster and she ran like a monster. She is a special filly, one of a kind, an unbelievable fill.”
Monomoy Girl has run in seven graded stakes races this year, with her only loss coming in the Cotillion via disqualification. She also won the Kentucky Oaks, Acorn and Coaching Club American Oaks.