In a wide-open older dirt male division, the Grade 1 TVG Pacific Classic may have created more questions than it answered when 9.60-1 shot Higher Power romped home to win his first career graded stakes by 5 ¼ lengths, securing a "Win and You're In" berth in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.
But who is Higher Power? Learn more about the 4-year-old colt in today’s Getting To Know piece.
After breaking his maiden for former trainer Donnie Von Hemel and owner-breeder Pin Oak Stable at Remington Park as a 2-year-old in late 2017, Higher Power joined the Triple Crown trail two races later at age 3 when he ran in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes in March.
That Triple Crown experience was short-lived when the colt finished eighth behind Magnum Moon, making his connections reconsider a journey on the Kentucky Derby trail. Von Hemel dropped him back to listed stakes company in April and he finished third in the Northern Spur Stakes at Oaklawn Park, but that was the last time Higher Power was seen for eight months.
A trainer change during that period saw Higher Power switched to the Michael Stidham barn at the Fair Grounds, where he made his return in an allowance-optional claiming race last December. The colt ran a good third, 1 ½ lengths behind winner Silver Dust in the 1 1/16-mile race, showing promise for the future.
During the Fair Grounds meet, Higher Power stayed in allowance-optional claiming company and finally registered his first victory in more than a year when he won a 1 1/16-mile race in his final start for Pin Oak Stables.
Higher Power was sent through the auction ring a few weeks later at the Keeneland April 2-year-olds in Training sale that included a horses of racing age session. He was purchased for $250,000 during that session by Lane’s End Bloodstock on behalf of Hronis Racing and subsequently was sent to California.
Higher Power returned to graded stakes company in his first start for Hronis Racing and trainer John Sadler in the Grade 1 Gold Cup at Santa Anita. That didn’t go as well as his connections hoped, however, as Higher Power finished fifth, and Sadler next decided to try him on turf in a one-mile allowance-optional claming race at Del Mar on June 14.
That decision turned out to be an inspired one as Higher Power won his turf debut and posted a career-best 112 Equibase Speed Figure. He again stepped up to stakes company in his next start as his connections kept him on turf for the Wickerr Stakes on July 21 at Del Mar. Higher Power finished a good second in the Wickerr, but it wasn’t enough to convince his connections that his future was on the grass, so he again switched back to the dirt for the Pacific Classic.
In the 1 1/4-mile Pacific Classic, Higher Power took his place just behind the leading Quip, where he galloped comfortably under jockey Flavien Prat. Just before the quarter-pole, Prat let Higher Power out another notch and he easily took the lead. From there, the race was all-but over as Higher Power extended his margin of victory to 5 ¼ lengths at the finish line. It was the second straight victory in the race for John Sadler and Hronis Racing, who had won the previous year with eventual Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Accelerate.
This was an admittedly weak Pacific Classic field, but it is worth noting that of the prior five Pacific Classic winners to run in the Breeders’ Cup Classic before this year, one has won (Accelerate), two were second (Collected and California Chrome), and a fourth, Shared Belief, finished fourth in a Classic in which he had a legitimate excuse after being sideswiped at the start.
Higher Power’s credentials are somewhat suspect for the Breeders' Cup, as the Pacific Classic was his first stakes win. However, in a division that doesn’t have a clear star outside of McKinzie, this is a good year for a horse peaking in the second part of the season to be able to put in a good effort in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
It is unlikely there will be a soft pace up front in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but running the race in California is definitely to Higher Power’s advantage. Of the five Breeders’ Cups run in California this decade, all but one of the Classics has been won by horses leading the field. Mucho Macho Man was the outlier of that bunch in 2013, but he was never more than two lengths off of the pace according to the Equibase chart and took the lead after a mile.
Higher Power will have to show that he can win another Grade 1 and do it against tougher company for me to choose him in the Classic, but he does have a few things going for him here. The Pacific Classic has proven to be a key prep in the last few years. But Higher Power's career-best 112 Speed Figure registered in the Pacific Classic is nine points lower than McKinzie's best, so he’ll really have to step it up to have a chance against that fellow California-based horse in November.
Higher Power is by Medaglia d’Oro, who finished second in two editions of the Breeders’ Cup Classic (2002 and 2003) before turning into a top sire. The stallion has 109 Northern Hemisphere stakes winners, including Hall of Famer Rachel Alexandra, and four Breeders’ Cup winners, including Songbird. But Medaglia d’Oro has never even had a runner in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
That can be credited more to his tendency to sire better fillies than colts than to distance issues among his offspring, as multiple runners by Medaglia d’Oro have proven to be capable of winning route races, an example being Talismanic winning the 1 ½-mile Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf two years ago.
As a Grade 1 winner by Medaglia d’Oro, Higher Power has already made himself a potentially valuable stallion prospect, but if he can run well in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, his connections will be fending off calls in November.
Higher Power’s female family also supports the class he showed last week. His dam, Alternate, was a multiple stakes winner, and she is the dam of nine winners from nine starters. Multiple Grade 2 winner Alternation, who sired this year’s Longines Kentucky Oaks winner Serengeti Empress after winning six stakes during his racing career, leads those nine winners. Higher Power is also a half-brother (same dam [mother], different sire [father]) to stakes winner Interrupted, who finished third in the Grade 3 Florida Oaks in 2014.
Alternate is a half-sister to 1995 Canadian Horse of the Year Peaks and Valleys, who finished sixth to Cigar in the 1995 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Another notable member of Higher Power's female family is recent Grade 1 TVG.com Haskell Invitation Stakes runner-up Mucho Gusto, who we could see line up against Higher Power in the Breeders’ Cup.
Barring another impressive win against tougher competition, Higher Power will very likely be a longer shot on the board in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but the 4-year-old definitely adds intrigue to a race that looks like it could have a surprise ending when the horses cross the line in November.