Sadler hoping Higher Power can give him second Breeders’ Cup Classic

Hronis Racing’s Higher Power and jockey Flavien Prat win the Grade I, $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar. Benoit Photo

Trainer John Sadler got the 0-for-44 Breeders’ Cup monkey off his back last year by winning the Classic with Accelerate. And if Higher Power is a long shot to follow Accelerate as champion older male, the 4-year-old colt has credentials to give Sadler and Eclipse Award-winning owner Hronis Racing a second straight victory in the $6 million Classic that concludes the 14-race Breeders’ Cup World Championships this Friday and Saturday at Santa Anita Park.

       “We’re excited. We think we have a good shot in there,” Sadler said Sunday morning at Santa Anita.
       Higher Power was a useful allowance horse for trainers Donnie Von Hemel and Mike Stidham in the Midwest before being sold for $250,000 to brothers Kosta and Pete Hronis at Keeneland’s April auction. Turned over to Sadler, Higher Power put the Medaglia d’Oro colt on grass for the first time, reaping an allowance victory and good second in the restricted Wickerr Stakes. He returned to the dirt in his subsequent start, with Higher Power taking Del Mar’s 10-furlong Pacific Classic by 5 1/4 lengths under Flavien Prat.
       “It was really great,” Sadler said. “He trained really well and had a couple of super works over the track. We didn’t feel any pressure. It was a good week. Mrs. (Stephanie) Hronis had a little medical procedure on Friday, like the day before he ran. His wife kicked Kosta out of the hospital and said, ‘You’re going to the horse race.’ That went so well that we had a real carefree attitude going in, because the things more important than a horse race were going so well. It was just a fun experience. We thought the horse would run well, and he outran our expectations the way he won so big.”
       Higher Power was third in his last start after stumbling at the start of Santa Anita’s Grade 1 Awesome Again, won by 25-1 shot Mongolian Groom.
       “He almost lost the rider at the start,” Sadler said. “He went right down to his knees, and then it was like he was eliminated at the start. He still got around there third with a big excuse. Hopefully he’ll get a good do-over.”
       McKinzie, Saratoga’s Grade 1 Whitney winner who was second in the Awesome Again as the odds-on favorite, figures be the Classic favorite but remains a bit of a question at 1 1/4 miles.
      “It’s an interesting field,” Sadler said. “It’s probably a great gambling race this year because you can take a lot of horses and say they have a pretty good chance. There are question marks on all of them. Can Higher Power repeat that performance at Del Mar and do it again? Can McKinzie go a mile and a quarter? And how do the 3-year-olds stack up against the olders. There are a lot of angles you could look at. Elate is another good story line. She looks like she wants that distance.”
       Higher Power is out of the same Seattle Slew mare as millionaire Alternation.
       “He’s a Medaglia d’Oro. He can run a mile and a quarter. He’s from a really good family,” Sadler said. “They kind of improve over time as they get older. The people who had him before me did a nice job with him. I got him in good shape. We’ve just been able to move him up a little bit. I think the distance – you don’t get a lot of mile-and-a-quarter dirt races — he showed he handled that really well.”
       When asked how satisfying it was to have the conversation centering on defending his Breeders’ Cup Classic title versus questions when he’d finally win a Breeders’ Cup race, Sadler said cheerfully, “like 10,000 percent.
        “We’re in good frame of mind. We have fun horses we’re going to run over the week. Some of those races, there are some pretty heavy favorites in there, so you don’t know how well you’re going to do. But we’re bringing good horses.”
       One is Catalina Cruiser, Del Mar’s two-time Grade 2 Pat O’Brien winner whose only defeat in eight starts was sixth as the odds-on favorite in last year’s $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Churchill Downs. This year the 5-year-old horse, also owned by Hronis Racing, is going in the loaded $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint at six furlongs.
       “We think his speed figures are better going short,” Sadler said. “He set a stakes record at Belmont this year (in the Grade 2 True North), like two-fifths off the track record at 6 1/2 furlongs. We think it’s going to be a good set-up for him. He’s good on this track obviously. It’s a tough race, but he’s a tough horse himself.”
      Sadler also is running Del Mar’s Grade 1 Clement Hirsch winner Ollie’s Candy in the $2 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff and Selcourt in the $1 million Filly & Mare Sprint.
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Jennie Rees