DEL MAR, Calif. — With his top two horses elsewhere, John Sadler took a chance with a couple others in his barn.
Higher Power paid off.
The 4-year-old colt took command turning into the stretch and won the $1 million Pacific Classic by 5 1/4 lengths at Del Mar on Saturday, making Sadler the first trainer to win the Grade 1 race in consecutive years with different horses.
“The second time is just as sweet,” Sadler said.
In 2018, Accelerate ended Sadler’s 0-for-11 skid with a record 12 1/2-length victory in the West’s biggest race of the summer. Owner-brothers Kosta and Pete Hronis joined Sadler with consecutive victories.
“Winning it back to back is a tribute to John Sadler,” Kosta Hronis said.
Ridden by Flavien Prat, Higher Power ran 1 1/4 miles in 2:02.43 at the seaside track north of San Diego. Sent off at 9-1 odds, the colt paid $21.20, $9.40 and $7.40.
“When we entered the backside he really grabbed the bit and I was travelling really well,” Prat said. “Once the leader fell apart he really jumped into the bridle and did everything on his own, so I thought that was the right move.”
Draft Pick returned $17.40 and $10 at 13-1 odds. Mongolian Groom was another neck back in third and paid $7.20 to show at 18-1 odds.
Higher Power earned an automatic berth in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita this fall.
Seeking the Soul, the 2-1 favorite, finished seventh.
“He didn’t try at all,” jockey John Velazquez said. “No effort. I don’t get it.”
Sadler’s top two handicap horses, Gift Box and Catalina Cruiser, weren’t in the picture. Gift Box won’t run again until this fall and Catalina Cruiser is tabbed to run next in a sprint race.
Not seeing a dominant horse in the race, Sadler entered Higher Power. The colt responded with the first stakes win of his career.
“It developed pretty much the way we thought,” he said. “We thought there would be some speed on the inside and the plan was to stalk. It came out the way we thought it would.”
Sadler’s other entry, Campaign, finished fifth.
The victory, worth $600,000, increased Higher Power’s career earnings to $800,648, with five wins in 13 starts.
Sadler didn’t get Higher Power in his barn until spring. The colt was with another trainer for the first six starts of his career and then transferred to a different trainer.
In other stakes:
– Acclimate won the $250,000 Del Mar Handicap by a length under Florent Geroux. The 5-year-old brown gelding earned an automatic berth in the BC Turf.
Trained by Phil D’Amato, Acclimate ran 1 3/8 miles on turf in 2:12.71 and paid $16.60 to win at 7-1 odds.
– Cambier Parc shipped in from New York and won the $300,000 Del Mar Oaks by 1 1/4 lengths for trainer Chad Brown.
Ridden by Velazquez, the 3-year-old filly ran 1 1/8 miles on turf in 1:46.75. She paid $4.40 as the 6-5 favorite.
– Fighting Mad cruised to an eight-length victory in the $100,000 Torrey Pines Stakes.
Ridden by Joe Talamo, the 3-year-old filly ran one mile in 1:38.61. Fighting Mad paid $6.60 as the 2-1 favorite trained by Bob Baffert. She’s owned by Gary and Mary West, owners of Maximum Security, disqualified after finishing first in the Kentucky Derby.
– Mr Vargas won the $100,000 Green Flash Handicap by 2 1/4 lengths.
The 5-year-old gelding ran five furlongs on turf in 56.15 seconds under Talamo. Mr Vargas paid $8.40 to win for trainer Brian Koriner.