Sadler Charts Derby Course with Rock Your World

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John Sadler | Breeders' Cup Eclipse Sportswire

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The spoils of victory typically come with a nice polish. Gleaming trophies. Glossy plaques. But not always.

“He offered me an egg roll at Clocker's Corner on Sunday morning,” said trainer John Sadler, on Ron McAnally's act of largesse the day after Rock Your World (Candy Ride {Arg}), the horse the veteran conditioner bred, careened away with the GI Santa Anita Derby.

“It was pretty good, but I don't think it was breakfast food,” Sadler added, tongue firmly in cheek, before explaining that McAnally-who also trained both Rock Your World's sire and dam, Charm the Maker-offered more than just epicurean rewards. “He congratulated me, of course, said what a good job I've done.”

Sadler has known McAnally since his foundling days at the track, when, as veterinary assistant to Jack Robbins, Sadler's second stop during morning rounds was the Hall of Famer. “I've known him my whole career.”

And with Rock Your World maintaining his unbeaten record with such panache in the Santa Anita Derby, Sadler is in an enviable position to check a box that's missing on both men's resumes-a victory in the year's premier classic.

And how has Rock Your World-owned by Hronis Racing (brothers Kosta and Pete) and Michael Talla's Talla Racing-come out of his Derby prep? “He came out of it very well,” Sadler replied. “He looks great.”

Casual observers might have been taken aback by Rock Your World's performance earlier this month. The public's first glimpse of this rangy colt came the very first day of 2021, when he showed speed aplenty in dispatching a field of maidens going six furlongs on the turf with minimum fuss.

His next start-the Pasadena S. over a mile on the turf at Santa Anita towards the end of February-proved something of an expedited university course.

“He did everything wrong in the Pasadena, and he still won,” said Sadler, describing the race as a valuable teaching experience. “It started in the paddock. I could barely get the saddle on him. He just had that second race jitters.”

In the race itself, Rock Your World dwelt coming out of the gates, and at the top of the stretch took a moment or two to get organized before leveling off to win going away.

“After the Pasadena, we went to work a little bit harder on things that weren't working for him. We took him to the gate three times before the Santa Anita Derby, we did extra schooling in the paddock.”

These homework assignments weren't squandered. In the Santa Anita Derby, he was slick out the gates, promptly sent to the lead where he stayed, stretching clear towards the wire.

Much has been written about Rock Your World's germinal starts on the turf, with Sadler saying, for example, that the Pasadena was chosen in part to avoid Bob Baffert's latest phenom, Life is Good, in the GII San Felipe S. at Santa Anita.

“I also wanted to start on the grass because I thought it would be easier,” Sadler said. “He's a big horse-wanted to give him time to develop, grow up, mature into himself. He's done that.”

It helps, of course, that Rock Your World is bred to handle any surface, as Sid Fernando recently pointed out. And in Candy Ride, Sadler has a sire as familiar as a glance in the mirror. He trained the stallion's second ever top-flight winner-Evita Argentina, who claimed the 2009 La Brea S.-and has done arguably more than any trainer to embellish the sire's record at stud.

With just three starts, all within his 3-year-old season, Rock Your World has the sort of comet-like profile that until recently would have faced skeptical glances. Mind, it took 126 years for Justify to mimic Apollo's feat of winning the Derby without a 2-year-old start, and Sadler will be the first to admit Rock Your World's education is far from complete.

“He doesn't have a ton of seasoning. No question about that-it's a concern,” he admitted. “But I'm happy where I'm at, and it's one of those things you can't do much about.”

And how will he handle the rough-and-tumble of the Derby, kick-back an' all? “That's a hard question-you won't really know until it happens. We'll see where we draw. Who knows.”

But if inexperience is a mountain to climb, good temperament is the tool most useful to the task.

“He's lovely in the barn-on the track he's all business,” said Sadler, ticking off like a report card a string of desirable traits in a student: “Does whatever you want. Willing worker. Pretty nice horse to train. Good energy.”

“I'm doing it just the way I want to this year”

The support the Hronis Brothers have given Sadler the last decade or so has, like a gusty sea-breeze filling the sails, propelled the Sadler barn into rarely chartered waters, during which time, the California mainstay has secured a number of notable milestones:

First Breeders' Cup victory (Accelerate in the 2018 Classic), first GI Pacific Classic (Accelerate in 2018), first GI Santa Anita “Big Cap” H. (Accelerate in 2018, with Gift Box and Combatant repeating the dose in subsequent years).

Such contemporary accolades obscure what has been a career forged upon the anvil of consistency. Sadler enjoyed his first graded stakes victory in 1982, when Don Roberto won the GIII Rolling Green H. at Golden Gate Fields. Since then, he's sent out a further 172 graded stakes winners.

Given the trainer's longevity and stature, it's perhaps startling to think he's had only four prior starters in the nation's most famous race. But then again, consistency in horse racing can't be found among those who see in their horses children of exceptional talents.

“We've never been ones to force it,” Sadler said. “I've never really had a 3-year-old that I've said, 'okay, he's not that great, I'm going to try to get us some cheap points.'”

Thus far of Sadler's Derby four, the first shot flew the farthest. “We actually ran really well,” said Sadler, of his 1993 Derby runner-the Allen Paulson-owned Corby who finished 6th to Sea Hero in the Paul Mellon silks.

“Even though he didn't win, he ran a really good race,” said Sadler of Corby. “He loomed up at the quarter pole, looked a pretty good threat, and just got beat by better horses. It was a lot of fun.”

The next three attempts were less salutary, however. In 2010, the heavens opened before Line of David and Sidney's Candy's Derby bids, leaving them stuck in the mud. Four years later, Candy Boy “got wiped out at the first eighth of a mile,” said Sadler.

What have these prior experiences taught Sadler of the Churchill Downs gauntlet? “A lot can happen is what I've learned,” he said.

“I know one thing about the Derby-run in it a few times, watched it every year-you can't force it. If it's going to happen, it's going to happen. I'm not going to waste energy making myself crazy on what post we get-we'll deal with all the circumstances as they come up,” he said.

“I'm relaxed right now, but I'm not saying I'll be [relaxed] the week of the race.” What helps, he said, is that this year, “I'm doing it just the way I want, which is with a leading contender.”

Between now and that first Saturday in May, Rock Your World's preparations will have a distinctly California-flavor. “It's a program that works,” he said, alluding to other Derby winners-Giacomo, California Chrome, the Baffert stars-that arrived in Kentucky sporting bronzed winter tans.

Rock Your World is scheduled to work this weekend and again a week prior the race, before flying out the Sunday before.

“I'm very strong about staying in California because we know one thing we have here that they don't have there: We're not going to get rain in April,” he said.

“But maybe the racing gods will knock me down for saying that,” Sadler added, giving his wooden desk-positioned with an unimpeded view of the shed-row-a rap of his knuckles.

A little superstition can't hurt, therefore, even after a career that has brought more than the usual haul of trophies-egg rolls included.

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