John Sadler Proof That Nice Guys Can Finish First

After many years of trying, trainer John Sadler (front row, second from left) won his first Breeders' Cup race with Accelerate.
After many years of trying, trainer John Sadler (front row, second from left) won his first Breeders' Cup race with Accelerate. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Before the Breeders’ Cup gets too far away in our rear view mirror, I’d like to take one more look back. To me the biggest story over the two days was trainer John Sadler finally getting off his 0-for Breeders’ Cup schneid.

When Accelerate won the Classic it had to have lifted a 1,000 pound gorilla off his back and no one will ever convince me otherwise.

Sadler had had two pretty good chances to win a 2018 Breeders’ Cup race before Accelerate but both horses failed in different, but still frustrating, manners.

Accelerate and Joel Rosario after their win.
Accelerate and Joel Rosario after their win. (Eclipse Sportswire)

In the Dirt Mile, Sadler had the 4-5 favorite in the undefeated Catalina Cruiser. At the start Catalina Cruiser broke outward from post 10, as some horses will do when they see daylight to their outside. Jockey Drayden Van Dyke gathered him up and quickly got into the race.

When the real running started, Catalina Cruiser flattened out and was a well-beaten sixth.

Sadler then had hopes that Catapult would outrun his 7-1 odds and upset in the turf Mile. Van Dyke was again the rider for Sadler. He put his mount into the race early and when the field turned for home he was battling with Analyze It and Divisidero for the lead.

With about 100 yards to the finish, I could only imagine how Sadler felt so close to victory. Just then Expert Eye under Frankie Dettori made the kind of patented late run that is the hallmark of a top European turf horse.

Expert Eye brushed by Catapult so fast I’m not even sure if he ever saw him coming. And if he did there was probably nothing he could do about it.

The Classic was the final race of the Breeders’ Cup. Accelerate going off as the 5-2 favorite was to me a good sign. Horseplayers were judging the resume of the horse and not Sadler’s Breeders’ Cup resume.

Jockey Joel Rosario rode a perfect race on Accelerate. He was never further back than fifth and by the top of the stretch was right with Thunder Snow and Mendelssohn. Accelerate won by a length but I got the feeling they could have run the Churchill Downs oval again and no one was passing him.

I was happy for Sadler as he has always been someone I’ve rooted for since getting to know him at Santa Anita Park. When I was the publicity director there, we hosted the first and only match race in track history between the champion Quarter Horse Griswold and the stakes-winning sprinter Valiant Pete who was trained by Sadler.

It was billed as a $100,000 winner-take-all match race held on April 20, 1991. I was dealing with a lot younger Sadler who could not have been more sporting or more accommodating to work with leading up to the race.

Valiant Pete won the dramatic match race by a neck over Griswold. One thing I still remember was the crowd of 40,000 made as much noise as any big race I’ve ever been to.

In the 27 years since Valiant Pete, John Sadler has won a lot of big stakes races but none more satisfying I’m sure than the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Baseball manager Leo Durocher once said that “nice guys finish last.” After Sadler’s win in the Classic, I also know that nice guys can finish first too.

Richard Eng is the author of “Betting on Horse Racing for Dummies”, an introductory book for newcomers to the sport of horse racing.  For two decades, he was the turf editor and handicapper for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He still handicaps the Southern California tracks and his picks are for sale at You can email him at and follow him on Twitter @richeng4propick and on

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