LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Accelerate took the lead at the top of the stretch and held off Gunnevera to win the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic by a length Saturday, strengthening his bid for Horse of the Year over Triple Crown winner Justify.
The race lacked the retired Justify and left a wide-open field, which the chestnut 5-year-old horse eventually overtook after breaking from the No. 14 post as the favorite. Accelerate made a sweeping move in the far turn and was in charge at the top of the stretch, then held off Gunnevera for his fifth consecutive Grade 1 victory and sixth of seven overall this year.
That gave trainer John Sadler his first Breeders’ Cup win since his initial starter 30 years ago.
As for Accelerate being named this year’s top thoroughbred, Sadler said he’d leave that up to the sports writers who vote on the Eclipse Awards. He noted his own bias, though.
“To me, he’s the Horse of the Year, no doubt,” Sadler said. “He’s won all those great races. To win the Santa Anita Handicap (in March) was for me probably one or two on my bucket list.
“The Classic is a newer race but a great race, and he won that so smashingly. He’s just a great horse and had a great year.”
Ridden by Joel Rosario, Accelerate covered 1 1/4 miles in 2:02.93 and paid $7.40, $6 and $4.40.
“He broke really well,” Rosario said of Accelerate. “I was on the outside and had to use him a little bit. I just wanted to get a position because I was way out there. I know I had a long run to the turn but I wanted to be not too wide.
“When I got to the backside I tried to be in the clear, which is what he likes to do.”
The Classic triumph capped a successful Breeders’ Cup for the jockey, who also rode Game Winner and Jaywalk to victories on Friday in the Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies Turf, respectively.
Gunnevera returned $21.80 and $11.80, while Thunder Snow paid $8 in redeeming himself at Churchill Downs after a last-place finish in the 2017 Kentucky Derby.
Off the board were Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s duo of West Coast and McKinzie. They finished seventh and 12th, respectively, after projections of challenging Accelerate in the marquee race of the season-ending championships.
Gunnevera, Thunder Snow and early pace setter Mendelssohn made things interesting in a wide-open field, an upside to the absence of horse racing’s 13th Triple Crown winner from the Classic. Justify’s ankle issue led Baffert to retire the 3-year-old in July, eliminating the opportunity to follow 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in pursuit of a rare grand slam.
Accelerate claimed his fourth race in a row and answered the question of if he could continue his roll after beating West Coast by 2 1/4 lengths in the Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita. And it followed other notable performances on the second day of the $30 million championships.
Monomoy Girl bolstered her case as the top 3-year-old filly by winning the $2 million Distaff. The anticipated duel between the reigning Kentucky Oaks winner and her 2017 predecessor Abel Tasman never materialized, as Monomoy Girl made her move at the final turn and held off Wow Cat by a length for her sixth victory this season.
Peter Miller made Breeders’ Cup history as the first trainer to saddle two repeat winners in the same Breeders’ Cup races. Soon after Stormy Liberal outdueled favorite World of Trouble to retake the Turf Sprint by a neck, 6-year-old Roy H swept past Promises Fulfilled and flew to a 3 1/4-length win in the Sprint. Jockey Paco Lopez earned his first Breeders’ Cup victory.
Enable followed up last month’s Arc de Triomphe victory by winning the $4 million Turf by 3/4 lengths over Magical. The 4-year-old British filly became the first horse to win both prestigious races in the same year. She earned her 10th win from 11 career starts.