In an era when metrics are the rage, trainer John Sadler is well aware of the numbers – both and good bad – that spell out the math behind Accelerate’s role as the probable favorite in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Accelerate enters the nationally televised mile-and-a-quarter showdown at Churchill Downs on Nov. 3 in an enviable position.
In six 2018 races for Sadler and owner Hronis Racing, the 5-year-old Accelerate has been practically perfect, winning five times and posting four wins in major Grade 1 stakes.
With a neck loss to City of Light in the $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap in April serving as the only blemish on that record, the son of 2010 Preakness winner Lookin At Lucky owns a three-race winning streak that features a trio of the sport’s most important stakes. Accelerate has been a dominant force on the West Coast, winning the prestigious Santa Anita Handicap earlier in the year and more recently reeling off consecutive wins in the Awesome Again, Pacific Classic and the Gold Cup at Santa Anita by a combined margin of 19 lengths.
An eye-opening 12 ¼-length blowout in the mile-and-a-quarter Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Aug. 18 was the highlight reel of the group, but his most recent triumph, a 2 ¼-length score over Pegasus World Cup and Dubai World Cup runner-up West Coast in the Awesome Again at Santa Anita, indicates Accelerate is showing little sign of wear late in the year.
“He’s doing great. He came out of that (Sept. 29) race in really good shape. We’re very excited about the Breeders’ Cup Classic,” said Sadler, whose horse earned a free spot in the BC Classic through his victory in the Pacific Classic, a Breeders’ Cup Challenge series race. “I equate it to a baseball pitcher who throws a great game every time he pitches. Every time we lead him over there (to race), he comes up big. One of the beauties of him being a 5-year-old is that he recovers from those long-distance races very well. He has a great constitution and he hasn’t disappointed us at all this year.”
Should Accelerate continue his winning streak with a victory over a stellar field in the BC Classic, it could give Eclipse Award voters a cause to re-consider their Horse of the Year ballot. While retired Triple Crown winner Justify is considered to be the leader in the clubhouse, a fifth Grade 1 victory in a setting as pressure-packed as the BC Classic would surely open the door for debate.
“If he wins the Breeders’ Cup Classic, I believe he should be Horse of the Year, but I’m biased,” Sadler said. “We’ll worry about that afterwards. My job is to keep him good and right now he’s looking excellent.”
The flip side of those numbers involves Accelerate’s minuscule body of work outside of the friendly confines of California and Sadler’s unsightly mark with Breeders’ Cup starters.
In his 21-race career, which features nine wins and earnings of $2,492,480, Accelerate has raced beyond California’s borders only once. Aside from his runner-up finish in this year’s Oaklawn Handicap, he was shipped to Arkansas for the 2017 edition of the stakes but was scratched after he developed a fever.
Now, in the biggest challenge of his career, he’ll have to prove he can win in new surroundings after a trip across the Mississippi River.
“The first year we tried to ship him, he flew to Oaklawn and got off the plane with a little temperature,” Sadler said. “So, we did different things the second year when he shipped into Oaklawn and he shipped beautifully. I think he’s a big, strong horse and I don’t see it as an issue with the Breeders’ Cup.”
A bigger problem in regards to the World Championships figures to be Sadler’s lack of success in the event. He has sent out 41 Breeders’ Cup starters and has yet to win a race, while registering three seconds and seven thirds.
With a number like that belonging to the trainer of the likely betting favorite, it’s clear that Sadler is either overdue for success at the Breeders’ Cup or is mired in a prolonged and worrisome slump at the World Championships.
“I look at it as I have a lot of seconds and thirds,” Sadler said about the Breeders’ Cup. “We might have run one or two who might have been best, but I have a long resume, so I’m pretty confident in my abilities and everything like that. I figure a Breeders’ Cup win is going to happen when it happens. We’re going back with good horses this year so I’m looking forward to it.”
Accelerate will surely need to be at his best when he arrives at Churchill Downs. Waiting for him will be a deep and talented field that is likely to include Breeders’ Cup Challenge series winners Discreet Lover (Jockey Club Gold Cup) and Pavel (Stephen Foster) along with Dubai World Cup victor and Jockey Club Gold Cup runner-up Thunder Snow, Travers winner Catholic Boy, the Japanese-bred Woodward winner Yoshida, Pennsylvania Derby champ McKinzie, West Coast, Bravazo, Axelrod, Lone Sailor, Mind Your Biscuits, Mendelssohn, Gunnevera, Seeking the Soul and Collected, the runner-up in last year’s BC Classic.
“I respect everyone in the field,” Sadler said. “My job is to get our horse ready. Hopefully we’ll get some nice weather and it will be a great race.”
Judging by the analytics, it should be.
By Bob Ehalt