A Higher Power Hits Classic Trail

You can't say it hasn't been a strange, but remarkably productive, year for jockey Flavien Prat. Following the Kentucky Derby, I chronicled his bizarre path to Churchill Downs for the Run for the Roses, as he went through one contender after another, including Derby favorite Omaha Beach, before winding up on 65-1 shot Country House and then becoming the first jockey ever to be placed first by the stewards on a disqualification.

While Prat was piloting the Bill Mott-trained colt to victory, a 4-year-old allowance horse named Higher Power, who had a maiden win and two allowance scores, on dirt and grass, in nine career starts at Fair Grounds, Oaklawn Park, and Remington Park was being transferred from the barn of Michael Stidham to John Sadler at Santa Anita after being purchased at the Keeneland Horses of Racing Age sale by Hronis Racing from the colt's breeder Pin Oak Stable.

The son of Medaglia d'Oro hardly looked like a stakes horse, never mind a graded stakes horse, and certainly never mind a grade 1 stakes horse. In fact, he had made a brief appearance on the Derby trail the year before, but after finishing an uninspiring eighth, beaten over 12 lengths, in the Rebel Stakes at 44-1 and then a well-beaten third in the listed Northern Spur Stakes, he was moved from Donnie Von Hemel's barn to Stidham's and relegated to allowance company before being sold.

One day Stidham called Sadler and told him that Pin Oak was cutting back and had him in the Keeneland April Horses of Racing Age sale and suggested he take a look at him. Sadler and bloodstock agent David Ingordo looked him over, liked what they saw, and purchased him for Hronis Racing for $250,000. They all felt a colt with his pedigree, being out of a Seattle Slew mare, was a smart purchase. Well, in only three months, he has already earned almost three times more than they paid for him.

After three starts for Sadler and Hronis Racing, including a fifth-place finish in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita and an allowance victory and a second in the restricted Wickerr Stakes, both on grass, and going through eight different jockeys in his career, guess who winds up on him for the grade 1 Pacific Classic?

Yep, the Flying Frenchman, who was in the midst of a record year, already earning as much money as he did all of last year, while winning such top races as the Kentucky Derby, Queen's Plate, Santa Anita Oaks. Gamely Stakes, Belmont Gold Cup, and Eddie Read Stakes. And now add the Pacific Classic.

Prat's agent, Derek Lawson, who has been on a wild roller coaster ride all year, received a phone call one day from Sadler asking him to work Higher Power, who had been ridden in his last two starts by Drayden Van Dyke. But after winning an allowance race on grass wire to wire, Higher Power fell victim to the Dick Mandella-trained Bombard in the Wickerr Stakes, who pretty much stole the race on the front end under, you guessed it, Flavien Prat. Sadler had been impressed with the way Prat had battled his main jockey Joel Rosario for the leading rider title at Santa Anita this past winter and with his dramatic last to first charge to win the Oceanside Stakes on his and Hronis Racing's Jasikan. He reached out to Lawson.

So Prat worked Higher Power six furlongs in a sharp 1:13 2/5 and loved the way he skipped over the track and how strong he galloped out. He also saw how excited the colt's connections were about running him in the Pacific Classic.

A short while earlier, Prat had commented to Lawson about how they don't have much for the Breeders' Cup. Now they have the winner of the Pacific Classic, a "Win and You're In" race for the Breeders' Cup Classic, who crushed his field by 5 1/4 lengths and is bred to run all day, and likely will be aboard the Sadler-trained Catalina Cruiser--winner of the True North Stakes and San Diego Handicap in his past two starts--in the seven-furlong Pat O'Brien Stakes Aug. 24.

Prat had Higher Power in a perfect stalking position behind the pace-setting second-choice Quip, and when Quip ran into the proverbial brick wall at the five-sixteenths pole, Prat was able to burst clear of the field in a flash and never looked back, scoring his third victory of the year in a million-dollar race.

With the Breeders' Cup run at Santa Anita this year, Prat now is in position to complete a Kentucky Derby--Breeders' Cup Classic double on horses who basically fell into his lap.

Yes, it's been that kind of year.


Not quite ready to integrate the 3-year-olds with the older horses until they sort themselves out Saturday in the Travers Stakes. Pennsylvania Derby should then clear up the picture completely. I will start integrating after Travers.

1—McKinzie Bob Baffert Most talented, but is he as effective going 1 1/4 miles? Home track should help. Couldn’t get by Gift Box in Big Cap, but still the horse to beat.
2--Catholic Boy  Jonathan Thomas Last year's Travers winner needed Suburban effort and should improve in Woodward Stakes.
3--Thunder Snow Saeed bin Suroor Scratched Whitney morning and was sitting on huge effort. Has won or placed in grade 1 or group 1 stakes in five different countries. Moves up at 1 1/4 miles.
4--Higher Power John Sadler Burst on the scene with rousing score in Pacific Classic. Awesome pedigree and will run all day. Can he duplicate against better competition?
5--Yoshida Bill Mott Powerful closer who moves up going 1 1/4 miles. Ran huge race in Whitney to be second and was beaten only 1 3/4 lengths in last year’s Classic. Very dangerous.
6--Hofburg Bill Mott This is the big sleeper after impressive nine-furlong allowance score at Spa. Could move way up with big effort in Woodward Stakes. Gifted colt.
7--Preservationist Jimmy Jerkens Throw out fourth in Whitney after terrible ride. Suburban romp over Catholic Boy stamps him as dangerous contender.
8--Vino Rosso Todd Pletcher Hard-knocking colt always tries hard. Distance no problem and has good closing kick. He was my No. 1 ranked 3-year-old last spring.
9--Gift Box John Sadler Nosed out McKinzie in Big Cap for third straight win, but has lost last two and hasn’t worked since July 13. Didn’t handle Churchill, especially on short rest. Still on course for Awesome Again Stakes.
10--Seeking the Soul Dallas Stewart Didn’t run a lick in Pacific Classic, but excuse classy horses, especially Eastern horses, who run dismal races at Del Mar. Remember ’17 Breeders Cup.
11--Draft Pick Peter Eurton Big effort in Pacific Classic in only third start of the year and stretching out from mile and 1 1/16 miles. Easily bred for 10 furlongs. Trainer always live.
12--Mongolian Groom Enebish Ganbat Has quietly chalked up strong thirds in the Big Cap and Pacific Classic and ran a big second to Catalina Cruiser in the San Diego Handicap.
13--Pavel Doug O'Neill You never know what you’re going to get from him and War Story. He is capable of popping a big one at any time. You just don’t know if and when his exhausting career will catch up to him for good. Deserves another chance.
14--Tacitus Bill Mott Let’s start on the 3-year-olds, who will sort themselves out in Travers. He may be most talented, but needs good luck for a change. Blinkers may help.
15--Code of Honor Shug McGaughey He's just now maturing and peaking and his Dwyer score was powerful. Mile and a quarter might not be best distance, but he should handle it at Santa Anita.
16--Maximum Security Jason Servis Crazy career and we still have no idea how good he is. Don’t like that he’s still not 100% after Haskell score. Brilliant and talented. Pennsylvania Derby should tell us more.
17--Game Winner Bob Baffert Tough break having to miss Travers after coming down with cough. Schedule now up in the air. We know he’s talented, but Los Al Derby win proved little.
18--Tax Danny Gargan Travers will tell all. Getting really good now and we know distance will not be a problem. Excellent cruising speed should serve him well at Santa Anita.
19--Spinoff Todd Pletcher Lost his way for a while, but impressive score over good older horses in Spa allowance at 1 1/8 miles has him back on track. Dangerous next time he runs, likely in Pennsylvania Derby.
20--Highest Honors Chad Brown Very lightly raced, but could be ready to put it all together come Breeders' Cup time. Seems to have all the tools. Brown dangerous with lightly raced horses.

Another 3-year-old to watch is Mr. Money, who has been winning stakes in the Midwest by big margins. He'll face an acid test in the Pennsylvania Derby. There are other 3-year-olds, such as Owendale, Endorsed, and megabomb Laughing Fox who could put themselves right in the picture with a big effort in the Travers. All are bred for 1 1/4 miles. We're waiting to see how quickly Omaha Beach gets back to serious training. Once he does and trains well he will jump up the list.


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