By Rory Carroll
(Reuters) – Accelerate surged down the stretch to win the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs on Saturday to deliver trainer John Sadler his first career win at the championships in 45 tries.
The favoured, 5/2 colt was reluctant to enter the starting gate before the race and spent much of the 1 1/4-mile run in the middle of the pack.
But he saved the best for last, overtaking the leaders from the outside after the final turn to win the jewel of horse racing’s richest event under sunny skies in Kentucky.
The five-year-old beat runnerup Gunnevera (30-1) by a length and third-placed Thunder Snow (14-1) by 1 3/4 lengths.
“It feels really good,” said Sadler, who now has a 1-3 record in the Classic and a 1-45 record overall at the annual competition, which draws the best thoroughbreds from around the globe.
“We’ve brought a lot of horses here so I think we should get some credit for that.”
Jockey Joel Rosario said winning the 14-horse race against a deep and talented field was anything but easy.
“You can tell I had to ride him really hard,” an out of breath Rosario said while still on the back of the chestnut colt, who has now won four consecutive Grade One starts.
“He is the kind of horse you have to ride him the whole way.”
The win wraps up an impressive weekend by Rosario, who won the Juvenile Fillies and Juvenile races on Friday before securing the Classic on Saturday for his ninth career win at the Breeders’ Cup.
Accelerate owner Kosta Hronis credited his trainer for the win.
“To win this with John Sadler is an honour for the Hronis family.”
“We owe all of this to John and the great job he and his team did.”
It was a race to forget for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s two horses, West Coast and McKinzie, who were thought to be Accelerate’s stiffest competition.
West Coast, who finished third in the Classic last year, finished seventh despite a strong start and McKinzie also faded before crossing the wire a distant twelfth.
“They looked good for about a mile,” Baffert said.
“They just tired and they just didn’t have it today.
“Accelerate was the best horse.”
The Classic win brought a happy ending for what had been another difficult day for Sadler-trained horses at the Breeders’ Cup.
The heavily favoured Catalina Cruiser came up short in the Dirt Mile and Catapult was edged by Expert Eye in the Mile before Rosario rode Accelerate to victory in the 35th running of the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
“He ran a great race and Joel rode him perfectly,” Sadler said.
“We were really thrilled.”
(Reporting by Rory Carroll, editing by Ed Osmond and Martyn Herman / Ian Ransom)