One of the favorites for this year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve is Runhappy Santa Anita Derby winner Rock Your World. He was an impressive 4 ¼-length gate-to-wire winner, extending his career mark to a perfect 3-for-3.
Rock Your World is trained by John Sadler, who will send out his fifth Kentucky Derby starter this year. Sadler has a longtime partnership with Hronis Racing; they teamed up to campaign 2018 champion older dirt male Accelerate. Talla Racing co-owns Rock Your World along with Hronis Racing.
We sat down with Sadler to discuss Rock Your World’s path to the first Saturday in May.
You and Hronis Racing have a very successful partnership. How did that get started?
They reached out to me several years ago and said they would like to claim a few horses, and I claimed some for them. From there, it’s grown through the years. We’ve formed a great relationship, and our record together speaks for itself. I’ve trained for Michael Talla (of Talla Racing) for quite a few years as well. We’ve had lots of great horses together, including (Grade 1 winner) Crisp, (Grade 1 winner) Mona de Momma, and graded stakes winner More Chocolate. These are longtime clients who I’ve known for a while, and it’s great to get to go to the Derby with them.
Rock Your World had kind of an unorthodox path to the Derby. He made his debut on New Year’s Day in a six-furlong grass race. Did you think of him as a grass horse only at first, or was there always an idea of running him on dirt at some point?
We thought he could be on either surface. For the first two races, we chose to go grass, get experience on that surface. The plan was always to switch him to dirt at some point, and take a shot in a prep race. If you run well in one of those last preps, if you finish in the top two, you’re going to get into the Derby. That was the original plan – and what’s nice is that this time, it actually worked out.
You said you had planned on racing him on dirt all along, but were you expecting as big a race as he ran in the Santa Anita Derby?
You never know exactly what to expect, but we knew that he’s a good horse and that he would run well. He kind of exceeded our expectations in the Santa Anita Derby, however.
Did you learn anything about him in that race that you might not have known before?
We’ve always thought distance was his friend, and we thought he was going to be good at 1 ¼ miles with breeding, athleticism, and action. Those steps from six furlongs to a mile to 1 1/8 miles separate a lot of horses, and when you keep stretching out, it separates them further. We’re excited about the longer distances with him.
Joel has been my longtime jockey, he’s won more races for me than anyone else. He’s won on horses like Twirling Candy and Accelerate, to name a few. When he became open, it was a tough decision we had to make, but we made the call to go back to him.
You’ve had a few Derby horses before, most notable Sidney’s Candy. How does Rock Your World compare to the others?
We’re going over there with our strongest shot. We had a couple of years where we were big prices, where we wanted to be in there because we were qualified, but this’ll be the best horse I’ve walked over there with.
What would it mean to win the Derby, not only for you and your owners, but for breeder Ron McAnally?
It would mean a lot to me. Ron has been a mentor throughout my career. I met him my first day on the backstretch with Dr. Jack Robbins, who was my boss at the time. I’ve known Ron throughout my career. He’s had an amazing career; if you look back at some of his horses, Bayakoa, John Henry, Paseana, you could go on and on. He’s had a fabulous career, and it’s a thrill to see his breeding program taking off with a horse going to the Derby. He doesn’t have a large breeding program, but it’s high-quality, and it shows his love for the game.
I know you’re taking it one race at a time, but going forward, do you think Rock Your World will stay on dirt, or could he return to the grass at some point?
Most likely, he’ll stay on dirt, because that’s the surface of the big races we’re pointing at with him.