Accelerate, trainer John Sadler’s 5-2 favorite and, perhaps, his best shot to end a 44-race winless streak in the Breeders’ Cup Thoroughbred Championships, did just that Saturday by capturing the biggest prize of them all, the $6 million Classic at Churchill Downs.
As sweet as ending the streak was, Accelerate’s connections also had their eyes on another prize, Horse of the Year. While Triple Crown winner Justify made his case early, Accelerate, a 5-year-old California-based chestnut, established his own impressive resume with six wins in 2018, including five Grade 1s.
“I think he’s done something no one else had done,” said Kosta Hronis, who owns Accelerate with his brother Pete. “He’s undefeated at a mile and a quarter. ... They’ve been saying all along that he had to win the Classic to be in the conversation. He won the Classic, and then I read somewhere where it says maybe he did this all on the wrong year.
“Maybe Justify won the Triple Crown in the wrong year. I don’t know. This horse is special.”
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Justify, the second Triple Crown winner in the last three years and 13th overall, retired from racing in October after concerns over some slight inflammation in his left front ankle. He will stand stud at Coolmore Ashford Stud in Versailles where he has already taken up residence.
Sadler preferred to let the horse racing writers settle the Eclipse Award question.
“For me, I’m prejudiced,” Sadler said. “To me he’s Horse of the Year. There’s no doubt. He’s won all those great races. To win the Santa Anita Handicap was probably No. 1 or 2 on my bucket list. I’ve been a California guy my whole life. The Classic is a new race, but a great race, and he won that so smashingly. He’s just a great horse.”
Accelerate started from the No. 14 post and quickly settled in comfortably behind the early leaders out of the gate. Jockey Joel Rosario held him there as the field rounded the final turn, swinging him to the outside, four-wide as they began to enter the stretch.
“That was about as good as it gets,” said Rosario, who rode to his third victory in this year’s Breeders’ Cup. He was also aboard Jaywalk in the Juvenile Fillies and Game Winner in the Sentient Jet Juvenile on Friday. “That horse is simply unbelievable. I’m so happy for the owners and John. It was a great performance. He has so much heart.”
Accelerate took over the lead at the top of the stretch and never looked bothered, holding on for a 3/4-length win over 30-1 shot Gunnevera.
“I had a good trip. I never had to check,” said Gunnevera jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. Gunnevera last ran at Churchill in the 2017 Kentucky Derby, finishing seventh. “I just got beat by a nice horse. My horse ran huge.”
Accelerate has gotten better with age, with more than half his wins as a 5-year-old, and he’ll likely be pointed to next year’s Pegasus World Cup, Sadler said.
“This year at 5, he seems ready to go those long distances,” Sadler said. “He’s got great constitution, you know, because he needs quite a lot of training to run in those races.”
As for the winless streak in the Breeders’ Cup, Sadler appeared relieved he won’t face the question anymore. He nearly put it to rest earlier in the day.
“It’s obviously a point of irritation for me, but we got the big one, so it’s a good day,” Sadler said. “And we got a really good second with Catapult in the Turf Mile.”
Accelerate paid $7.40, $6 and $4.40. Gunnevera yielded $21.80 and $11.80. Thunder Snow, who dropped out of the Kentucky Derby just out of the gate in 2017, came ready Saturday to get a third-place finish paying $8.
The $1 exacta paid $130.80 and the race had a handsome 50-cent trifecta of $806.55.