Breaking from the outside number 14 stall after being reluctant to load in the starting gate, Hronis Racing's Accelerate won the 35th running of the $6-million, Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs on Saturday, giving trainer John Sadler his first victory in the world championships with his 45th starter. Ridden by Joel Rosario – who inherited the mount on the 5-year-old son of Lookin At Lucky after regular rider Victor Espinoza was injured this summer – Accelerate took command in the stretch to beat a fast-closing Gunnevera by one length, with Thunder Snow three-quarters of a length back in third, a nose in front of Yoshida in fourth in the field of 14 3-year-olds and up.
Accelerate covered 1 1/4 miles on a fast track in 2:02.93 and paid $7.40 as the favorite.
“It feels good,” Sadler said on the NBC telecast when asked about ending the long Breeders' Cup losing streak – a storyline that got almost as much play as Accelerate's exceptional racing season. “It's obviously a point of contention for me, but we got the big one.”
Sadler came into the 2018 Breeders' Cup with the longest losing streaking of any trainer, 0-for-41. His three starters earlier on Saturday's program failed to win: Selcourt tired to 12th at 5-1 after setting the pace in the G1 Filly & Mare Sprint; Catalina Cruiser finished sixth as the 9-10 favorite in the G1 Dirt Mile, and Catapult ran a good second at 7-1 to Expert Eye in the G1 Mile on turf.
“We've brought a lot of horses here, so we should get some credit for that,” he said.
As expected, Mendelssohn set the pace in the Classic under Ryan Moore, the Scat Daddy colt making his first start at Churchill Downs since a disastrous run in the G1 Kentucky Derby in May over a sloppy track. He redeemed himself with improved efforts for Aidan O'Brien, finishing second to Catholic Boy in the G1 Travers and third behind Discreet Lover and Thunder Snow in the G1 Jockey Club Gold Cup.
The fractions were fast: :22.68 for the opening quarter mile, :46.46 for the half and 1:10.61 for six furlongs, and Mendelssohn was under pressure from the Bob Baffert duo of McKinzie and West Coast as the Hall of Fame conditioner tried to win his fourth Classic since 2014. Thunder Snow, who defeated West Coast in the G1 Dubai World Cup in March, was just behind them along the rail.
Rosario had Accelerate wide in the run down the backstretch, within striking distance of the front-running quartet, then made his move rounding the far turn. The mile time was 1:35.90.
The Baffert runners were the first to throw in the towel, then Mendelssohn yielded to Accelerate before straightening away into the stretch. Thunder Snow, moving through on the inside, appeared to be the main danger to the favorite until Gunnevera launched his bid from far back under Irad Ortiz Jr. That rally was too late, however, and Accelerate was home free, registering the biggest victory among the 10 wins in his 22-race career.
“That was about as good as it gets,” said Rosario after securing his first Classic win and third Breeders' Cup race of the 2018 championships after scoring with Jaywalk in the G1 Juvenile Fillies and West Coast in the G1 Juvenile. “That horse is simply unbelievable. I'm so happy for the owners and John. It was a great performance. He has so much heart.”
“He ran a great race and Joel (Rosario) rode him perfectly,” said Sadler. “We were really thrilled. He did such a good job, kept him clear. We thought that post might be a bonus on the outside. He never got in trouble and never had anything in front of him. He just stayed a little wide and won the race.”
As a side note, Kosta Hronis, who with his brother, Pete, operates Hronis Racing, said Rosario rode the first horse he ever owned. “Joel Rosario rode our very first horse in our very first race in February of 2010 on Sleep Tide, a little horse that John claimed for us, and to turn all the way around and have Joel win the Breeders' Cup Classic today, it's a special day, and we're very happy for Joel,” Hronis said.
The Classic was Accelerate's sixth win in seven starts in 2018 and fifth in a G1 race. Accelerate was produced from Issues, a daughter of Awesome Again, who won the Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs in 1998. He was bred in Kentucky by Mike Abraham and purchased for $380,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale from the Bluewater Sales consignment.
Ninth in the G1 Dirt Mile at Del Mar in 2017 – when he won just one of eight starts – Accelerate began his 2018 season with victories in the G2 San Pasqual and G1 Santa Anita Handicap at Santa Anita before finishing second, beaten a neck by this year's Dirt Mile winner City of Light, in the G2 Oaklawn Handicap at Oaklawn Park. He then won back-to-back G1 races in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita and Pacific Classic at Del Mar. His final race before the Classic was the G1 Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita, when the chestnut horse beat West Coast by 2 1/4 lengths after not wanting to load in the gate, getting off to a bad start and then having a wide trip.
“He's been tricky at the gate at times” said Sadler. “We schooled him here in Louisville at the gate, and they kind of seemed to get like what we were telling them, how he likes to go in the gate. If you grab his ear, they did it last time at Santa Anita, he kind of resented it. Today I know they didn't grab his ear, they just kind of smooshed him behind and he got in.”
Though some have conceded Horse of the Year to undefeated Triple Crown winner Justify, who retired with four G1 wins among his five wins, Kosta Hronis was quick to point out that the honor is for the full year.
“I think he's done something no one else has done,” Hronis said. “He swept the California G1s. He's undefeated at the mile and a quarter. I think today, they've been saying all along that he had to win the Classic to be in the conversation. He won the Classic, and then I read somewhere where it said maybe he did this all on the wrong year, but maybe Justify won the Triple Crown in the wrong year, I don't know.
“This horse is special. He's showed up every time. He's danced every dance. He's been solid. This is Horse of the Year. It's a body of work, and what he has done in the last 12 months, I think he's well deserved to be of that honor. There's no doubt.”
Accelerate will be retired to Lane's End Farm in Versailles, Ky., to begin stud duty in 2019, but the G1 Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park Jan. 26 remains an option, Sadler said.
“We have an option to run him in the Pegasus,” said Sadler. “The plan right now is he'll probably go up to Lane's End Farm in Lexington tomorrow, and they'll show him there as a stallion this week, we'll bring him back to California, and if all is good, will probably go in the Pegasus, kind of our all-out Gun Runner of last year, and then he'll go off to stud.”
Comments from Classic participants:
Second-place trainer Antonio Sano (Gunnevera) – “I'm so happy for this horse. He ran second and had lost a couple lengths at the start. They sandwiched my horse. Every time we are closer and closer to winning a Grade 1. He's going to race in 2019 and will point to the Pegasus.”
Second-place jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. (Gunnevera) – “I had a good trip. I never had to check. I just got beat by a nice horse. My horse ran huge.”
Third-place trainer Saeed bin Suroor (Thunder Snow) – “He's run a really big race. I'm very pleased with that. The winner is a very good horse. This race is special as it brings together the best horses in the world. We have better horses this year and we've had a better season. He could go to the Dubai World Cup again.”
Third-place jockey Christophe Soumillon (Thunder Snow) – “Great job. I was trying to stay in behind Ryan Moore and he ran on really well. It was a great ride.”
Fourth-place trainer Bill Mott (Yoshida) – “I thought he ran his butt of and ran a super race. The plan is, right now, to keep him in training (in 2019).”
Fourth-place jockey Jose Ortiz (Yoshida) — “I didn't want to be as far back early as I was but I felt in the first quarter of a mile that they were running away from me. I felt like they were going very fast and I didn't want to rush him too early. I saw Gunnevera inside of me and I used him as a target and he took me to the three-eighths pole. I thought I was going to win the race when I was in the clear at the quarter pole but then I saw Gunnevera came back and beat me. It took him a while to get going but when he did, he got rolling.”
Trainer Aiden O'Brien (Mendelssohn, fifth) – “He ran a great race so we're delighted with him. We did our best, but weren't quite good enough.”
Trainer Tom Amoss (Lone Sailor, sixth) – “I'm really proud of Lone Sailor's performance today. He's just a 3-year-old and that was a big, big effort. I'm very, very excited about his 4-year-old year. We'll talk to the owner and make some decisions, but that was a big race for a young horse and I think he's going to be a very good 4-year-old.”
Jockey James Graham (Lone Sailor, sixth) — “He needed to break a little better. He gets to be a big baby in there sometimes too. He ran a good race. I was running late, just couldn't get back to them.”
Trainer Bob Baffert (West Coast, seventh & McKenzie, 12th) – “They looked good for about a mile. They just tired and they just didn't have it today. (McKinzie) is lightly raced and playing catch-up. I thought West Coast would run a little better than that. Accelerate is a good horse and he was the best horse.”
Jockey John Velazquez (West Coast, seventh) – “He was in perfect position and right where we thought he was going to be. When Accelarate went by me at the three-eighths pole, I had nothing. He didn't stop but he didn't run on.”
Trainer Uriah St. Lewis (Discreet Lover, eighth) – “It has been a great experience and I am happy we came.”
Jockey Manny Franco (Discreet Lover, eighth) – “I was riding him like he likes to be ridden – near the back. When I came to the half-mile pole, I was looking for something from him and he didn't do anything.”
Mario Gutierrez (Pavel, 10th) – “He was looking good most of the race. At the quarter pole, the two Baffert horses just started stopping. I had to check big time and lost all my momentum. Until then the horse was with me all the way.”
Trainer Chad Summers (Mind Your Biscuits, 11th) – “It was not our day. Congrats to Joel, John Sadler and Accelerate.”
Jockey Tyler Gaffalione (Mind Your Biscuits, 11th) – “He had good position, but he had trouble getting his feet under him and he never picked it up.”
Jockey Mike Smith (McKenzie, 12th) – “I'm at a loss for words. I don't know what happened. I was in great position, but when it came time to go, he wouldn't go.”
Trainer Jonathan Thomas (Catholic Boy, 13th) – “It looks like we got eliminated at the start.”
Jockey Javier Castellano (Catholic Boy, 13th) – “I'm very disappointed. The break cost us the race and then we had to fight to get through. Down the backside, he just gave up.”
Jockey Oisin Murphy (Roaring Lion, 14th) – “He's absolutely fine. The early part of the race didn't quite work out for him and we were on the backfoot from then on. He now deserves a nice break before embarking on hopefully what will be a great stallion career.”
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