John Sadler has the dubious distinction of saddling the most horses in the Breeders’ Cup without a victory. Sadler will have two excellent chances to break his 0-for-39 record in this year’s 34th renewal of the Breeders’ Cup which will be held at Del Mar for the first time.
In Accelerate and Stellar Wind, Sadler could send out the favorites in both the $1 million Dirt Mile and $2 million Distaff.
Accelerate, who beat the world’s top-ranked thoroughbred Arrogate in the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar in July, will run on the opening day of the big meeting, but it would more appropriate if it were Stellar Wind who gave Sadler his first taste of Breeders’ Cup glory the following day.
For it was STELLAR WIND who came the closest to giving Sadler a victory in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Distaff when she came within a neck of Stopchargingmaria at Keeneland. Sadler still thinks there was enough bumping in the stretch between those two horses that the stewards could have disqualified Stopchargingmaria from first and declared Stellar Wind the winner.
“If you sent that film to 10 different stewards I’d bet you we’d win out on that, but they have a tendency not to take a horse down on Breeders’ Cup Day,” Sadler said. “But that was probably the toughest (BC loss) because I thought we ran the best horse.”
Sadler said the consolation prize of losing the Breeders’ Cup was the fact Stellar Wind was voted the Eclipse Award as North America’s champion three-year-old filly that year.
Saddler rued Stellar Wind's luck in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Keeneland.
Stellar Wind came back in the 2016 Distaff and finished a non-threatening fourth in a race better known for the epic stretch battle that Beholder won by a nose over Songbird. Five weeks before that race, Stellar Wind ran the fastest race of her career, beating Beholder by a heck in the Grade 1 Zenyatta at Santa Anita.
“I thought last year it took a little bit of her energy to run so hard to beat Beholder,” Sadler said. “She ran a 1 on the Ragozin (speed figure) sheets which is a very, very, very fast race. This year I decided to skip the Zenyatta with the idea of having all her energy up for the big day.”
Thus, Stellar Wind will enter the Distaff off a 96-day layoff. Stellar Wind has won all three of her starts this year including the Clement Hirsch on July 30th, a race in which she had to put the pressure early on pace-setting Vale Dori and then pass that one in deep stretch to win by a neck.
“She’s better if she can settle a little more early and let somebody else do the hard work, but she’s capable of doing the hard work herself if she has to,” Sadler said. “I’ve trained in California long enough to know you cannot let a quality speed horse in California get an easy lead.”
That the Breeders’ Cup is being held for the first time ever at Del Mar should be a plus for Stellar Wind who is 3-for-3 over that track with wins each of the last three years.
“She’s always liked it down there,” Sadler said. “The first year she had the easy race in the Torrey Pines so that was kind of expected, but then really showed herself there last year and then this year. She’s done great down there.”
Stellar Wind makes it 3-3 at Del Mar in the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes in July.
In the Breeders’ Cup, there will be no Beholder or Songbird or even Vale Dori, the latter who twice came within a neck of beating Beholder this year. The challenges figure to come from Forever Unbridled, third in last year’s Distaff, as well Grade 1 winning three-year-olds Abel Tasman, Elate and It Tiz Well.
“I’ve learned one thing, when you line up for the big days there’s plenty of good horses in there so I’m not overly confident at all,” Sadler said. “I’m just going to concentrate on my horse, having her as good as I can for that day.”
ACCELERATE will be a top contender in the Dirt Mile after winning the San Diego by 8 1-2 lengths on July 22nd and then finishing third in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic on August 22nd. At 1 1-4 miles, the Pacific Classic was likely too far for Accelerate. He is 3-for-4 at Del Mar with two wins at the mile.
Accelerate was outstayed in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic in August, his only defeat in four starts at Del Mar.
Accelerate’s last two races have come with blinkers added and they have been his fastest according to speed figures. Sadler acknowledged the blinkers were the idea of jockey Tyler Baze, who had ridden Accelerate in his previous 11 starts before Victor Espinoza took the mount for his last two races.
“I think the blinkers on helped him a lot because earlier this year he was falling out the back which you can’t do in California. The blinkers put him more up in the race; due credit to Tyler Baze, he was the one who kind of mentioned it. I was a little hesitant for a couple of races to put blinkers on because he was running really good races. After he ran a real flat race – really his own bad race – we put them on and it snapped right back to life.”
Sadler is hoping to end his Breeders’ Cup drought this year. In addition to Stellar Wind’s second in the 2015 Distaff, Switch twice ran second in the Filly and Mare Sprint and Cost of Freedom was beaten a nose and a head when third in the 2009 Sprint.
“For me I’ve been doing this long enough and have had enough of a career it’s not the end all of all alls, but we’d obviously like to win one soon,” he said. “So this year looks stronger than even previous years so we’re hoping this year is our year.”