By Bill Finley
No one needs to remind John Sadler that he is 0-for-41 in the Breeders’ Cup, but reminded he will be. With the likely favorite in the GI Breeders’ Cup Classic in Accelerate (Lookin At Lucky) and in the GI Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile with Catalina Cruiser (Union Rags), Sadler’s struggles on racing’s championship day will be a major story leading up to the races, and one that he’s going to have to explain over and over again.
“I understand what a sportswriter’s job is, they have to make the race interesting,” Sadler said. “Accelerate has the fastest ‘Rag’ numbers, he’s proven at the distance, he’s won four Grade Is this year. All the other metrics look very good for him. So the only negative thing they’ll be able to say about him is that Sadler has never won a Breeders’ Cup race.”
There’s no obvious explanation as to why a trainer as capable as Sadler is has struggled so much when it comes to the Breeders’ Cup. Yes, he has run several longshots. According to Equibase, twenty of his 41 starters have gone off at 15-1 or higher. But he’s also started many horses that came in to the Breeders’ Cup with strong credentials. He’s run eight horses that were 5-1 or lower and his last three starters were 4-1 or lower. He had a particularly tough go last year at Del Mar, where Accelerate was ninth, beaten 14 1/4 lengths in the Dirt Mile, and Stellar Wind (Curlin) was eighth, beaten 12 1/2 lengths, in the GI Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
“I’m not really worried about [the record] myself,” he said. “I know everyone is going to write about it all week. I know that. I’m aware of that. There’s not a lot I can really say about it. I’ll leave that up to other people. I think it’s a combination of things. A lot of years we might have had the best horse in California, but we didn’t have the best horse in the Breeders’ Cup field. I was thinking about it other day and I remember how mad an owner was at me when I finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. We got beat by Goldikova (Ire) (Anabaa). The owner was mad at me because I couldn’t beat Goldikova? How can you be angry when you lose to her?”
The closest Sadler has come to winning a Breeders’ Cup race was when Stellar Wind finished second, beaten a neck in the 2015 GI Breeders’ Cup Distaff. According to the footnote of the race, she was bumped and floated out by the winner Stopchargingmaria (Tale of the Cat). There was an objection and a stewards’ inquiry, but the result stood.
“That’s the one that we should have won,” he said. “If it’s any other race, I think they take that other horse down.”
Another close call came in the 2009 GI Breeders’ Cup Sprint when Cost of Freedom (Cee’s Tizzy) was third, beaten just a head.
Another knock often heard about Sadler is that his horses rarely perform well when they ship out of California. That’s not entirely true. A 16% trainer for his career, he rarely runs outside of California. At all non-California-tracks, he is 21 for 181 lifetime (11.6%) and has won such prestigious races as the GI Apple Blossom H. and the GI Dubai Golden Shaheen.
“We don’t ship out as much as lot of people do from California,” he said. “For a while, I was taking more shots out of town, but right now we’re just going out two or three times a year. I don’t think our record outside of California is that bad.”
It is worth noting that Churchill Downs, which will host this year’s Breeders’ Cup, has not be hospitable to the Sadler stable. He is 3 for 38 (7.9%) there lifetime.
When it comes to both criticisms–he’s winless in the Breeders’ Cup and struggles whenever heading out of town–Sadler said it’s important to look at a bigger picture.
“To be fair to me, you have to look at my whole body of work, which is 2,400 wins in California, over 30 Grade I wins, over 300 stakes winners,” he said. “You have to look at those stats and remember we race in a tough neighborhood here in Southern California.”
Nonetheless, he admits winning a Breeders’ Cup race would come as a big relief.
“It would be great, no question about it,” Sadler said. “It would be fabulous. Every year is a new year and, with horses, every day is a new day. Having trained as long as I have, I have a short memory for tragedy, setbacks and bad races and everything like that. I’m always looking ahead, looking forward to getting there. All four of my Breeders’ Cup starters will work over this weekend, so that is what I’m thinking about now, those workouts.”
Sadler will also start Selcourt (Tiz Wonderful) in the GI Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint and Catapult (Kitten’s Joy) in the GI Breeders’ Cup Mile.
“We’re going with, arguably, the best hand we’ve ever had,” he said.
With horses like Accelerate and Catalina Cruiser, it’s obvious why Sadler will head to Churchill Downs with confidence, 0 for 41 or not.
“We’re going to have some nice chances,” he said. “With Accelerate, everything seems to be lining up right with him. We felt the same way about him before he won the [GI] Pacific Classic. As for my record, that’s something I’ll let the handicappers worry about.”