The stable’s recently acquired 4-year-old colt named Higher Power proved his prowess as a runner in undeniable fashion Aug. 17, kicking clear in the final quarter-mile of the 1 1/4-mile dirt race to win easily.
In the four months since he was plucked from the track at the revived Keeneland April horses of racing age and 2-year-olds in training sale, the son of Medaglia d’Oro has learned the a thing or two about the power of change.
Trading the Midwest for the West Coast, taking up residency in the barn of John Sadler, and swapping out his former silks for the familiar green and white of new owner Hronis Racing — a new perspective proved to be exactly what he needed.
Higher Power was stepping up to Grade 1 company for only the second time in his career, and the Pacific Classic Stakes carried with it the added pressure of a “Win and You’re In” automatic berth in the Nov. 2 Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park. Facing a stacked field of 10 runners that included three Grade/Group 1 winners, Higher Power’s lack of a stakes victory left his resume with a few holes to fill.
Breaking from post-position two with Flavien Prat aboard, the 4-year-old bay sped to the front of the pack from the gate and stalked the pace from just off the rail. Quip took early command just outside of Higher Power and set quarter-mile fractions of :23.68 and :47.69 through the half-mile. Mongolian Groom stalked the front-running pair between horses in third.
Still in the lead as six furlongs went in 1:12.65, Quip was forced to duel briefly with Higher Power before Prat angled him even wider to cut a path between horses as the field left the backstretch and entered the far turn. Higher Power got his nose in front deep early on the turn before sweeping to the lead.
In command by two lengths as they reached the mile mark in 1:37.32, Higher Power showed off his impressive turn of foot and continued to add to his leading margin through the stretch. He crossed the finish line 5 1/4 lengths clear in a final time of 2:02.43.
“There were no special instructions, just to make him comfortable,” Prat said. “We were in a good spot all the way around. At the three-eighths [pole] I asked, and he took up the bit and went from there. He was traveling well all the way around. I thought he would run a good race today. He had been training so well, I thought he’d have a good one in him today.”
Draft Pick, who had stalked Higher Power four wide as he made his move on the far turn, rallied to take second by a neck over Mongolian Groom.
“He ran huge,” said Joe Talamo, who was aboard the runner-up. “I had lots of horse all the way around there. Hats off to the winner, but my horse ran great. [Trainer] Peter [Eurton] asked me, ‘What do we do now?’ I told him — win the [Breeders’ Cup] Classic!”
Tenfold took fourth followed by Campaign and War Story. Favored Seeking the Soul — who had already earned a berth in the Classic with his win in the June 15 Stephen Foster Stakes — finished a non-threatening seventh.
“He didn’t try at all,” said jockey John Velazquez, who was aboard Seeking the Soul. “No effort. I don’t get it. I just don’t know why. Nothing. Very disappointing.”
Higher Power entered Saturday’s race off a second-place finish in the July 21 Wickerr Stakes at Del Mar. Prior to that effort, he ran fifth in the May 27 Gold Cup at Santa Anita Stakes before winning next out in a June 14 allowance-optional claiming race at Santa Anita.
“The second time is just as sweet,” said Sadler of Saturday’s repeat win. “It developed pretty much the way we thought. We thought there would be some speed on the inside and the plan was to stalk. It came out the way we thought it would.”