John Sadler, a well-respected trainer whose West Coast operation had produced one victory after another but chad ome up painfully empty in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, broke through in a big way at Churchill Downs on Nov. 3.
Favored Accelerate ended Sadler’s 0-fer on this international stage when he held off surging Gunnevera by one length in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic. Thunder Snow finished another three-quarters of a length back in third.
“We got the big one,” Sadler said, “so it was a really good day.”
Sadler was winless with 44 Breeders’ Cup starters, including two attempts in the Classic, before Hronis Racing's Accelerate ended his woes by winning for the sixth time in seven tries this season.
Some alarms might have gone off for those who have watched Sadler struggle in the Cup when the 5-year-old son of Lookin At Lucky was reluctant to load.
But, in front of a crowd of 70,423 on a crisp, sun-splashed afternoon, Accelerate was all business when it counted. After breaking from farthest outside in post 14, he completed the mile and a quarter in 2:02.93 and capped a huge weekend for for Joel Rosario, his jockey. Rosario delivered aboard Jaywalk in the Tito’s Handmade Vodka Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on Game Winner on Nov. 2 before taking down the biggest prize of all a day later.
Rosario worked for it, all right. He noted that Accelerate, for all of his success, can be a challenging mount.
“He is the kind of horse you’ve got to ride him the whole way,” he said.
Even when Accelerate made the lead, it was not over. “He waited a little bit on horses,” Rosario said.
Rosario inherited the mount due to a severe injury to Victor Espinoza. Sadler noted how well Rosario fit a horse that tends to give less than his all without considerable urging.
“He’s one of the most physical riders in the game right now,” Sadler said of Rosario. “He’s so strong and powerful.”
Accelerate earned his fifth Grade 1 triumph of the season, tacking the Classic onto previous successes in the Santa Anita Handicap, the Gold Cup at Santa Anita, the TVG Pacific Classic and the Awesome Again Stakes. His lone misstep occurred when he missed by a neck to eventual Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile winner City of Light in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap on April 14 at Oaklawn Park.
Accelerate provides a prime example of the value of extending an opportunity to a sound older horse to continue to complete. He was just 1-for-8 as a 4-year-old.
“This year at 5, he seems like he’s more ready to go those long distances,” Sadler said. “He has a great constitution because he needs a lot of training to run in those races. He’s been able to run in them, pull up good, continued to train hard and keep going.”
Accelerate was one of the few horses in the Classic that ran to expectations. West Coast and McKinzie, the two starters saddled by brilliant trainer Bob Baffert, faltered in seventh and 12th, respectively, in the field of 14 after being well-positioned early behind front-running Mendelssohn, who finished fifth.
West Coast and McKinzie each had just one prep race for the Classic in coming off prolonged layoffs. “They looked good for about a mile. “They just tired and they just didn’t have it today,” Baffert said. “(McKinzie) is lightly raced and playing catch-up. I thought West Coast would run a little better than that.”
Mike Smith, who piloted 3-year-old McKinzie, was shocked that his colt never fired. “I’m at a loss for words. I don’t know what happened,” he said. “I was in great position but when it came time to go, he wouldn’t go.”
Accomplished sprinter Mind Your Biscuits, attempting the Classic distance of a mile and quarter for the first time, finished 11th. “He had trouble getting his feet under him and he never picked it up,” said jockey Tyler Gaffalione.
Highly-regarded Runhappy Travers Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets winner Catholic Boy endured a brutal start. He was never a factor and pulled in next to last.
Accelerate’s body of work – and the exclamation point he attached to the end of it – may stir Horse of the Year debate even in a season in which undefeated Justify swept the Triple Crown in a six-race, 111-day whirlwind before he was retired at the end of July due to inflammation in one of his ankles. Justify is the first Triple Crown winner to be unraced as a 2-year-old. He did not debut until Feb. 18.
Not surprisingly, Sadler spoke up in behalf of Accelerate.
“I’m prejudiced. To me, he’s Horse of the Year, no doubt,” he said.
At the least, Accelerate will be remembered as a horse that relieved Sadler of significant baggage.