I couldn’t help but be fascinated by an interview that NBC did with Kosta Hronis, co-owner of and central figure behind Accelerate, prior to the Sept. 29 Awesome Again Stakes.
This is the main comment that I was delighted to hear from a relatively new owner who, along with his brother Pete, has experienced an unusual amount of success in such a short period of time, having started in 2010:
“We were looking forward to him running in his 5-year-old (season). We kinda had this in mind even as a late 3-year-old. Keep him on the track and let him mature as long as he was healthy and ready to go; let him be a racehorse. That’s what he was born to do.”
That was as refreshing a comment as the first blast of cool air in autumn. These are the words you used to hear from owners who were true sportsmen, who got into the game for the sport of it and to see their horses run over a prolonged period of time. As Kosta said, that’s what they are born to do.
It’s not as if Accelerate is some obscurely bred horse who breeders wouldn’t be interested in. He is by the successful young sire Lookin At Lucky, who won the Preakness Stakes, out of a mare by the classy Awesome Again, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Accelerate is a half-brother to Daddy D T, who placed in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, and he also possesses the much desired Rasmussen Factor (RF), being inbred top and bottom to the top-class broodmare Smartaire through her son Smarten, who won four Derbys and finished second in the Travers Stakes, and her daughter Smart Darlin, by Alydar.
Hronis said he has loved racing and horses since he was a young kid, coming to Santa Anita with his parents and grandparents and making $1 bets.
“It just kind of snowballed, one horse after another,” he continued in the interview. “We’re blessed to be where we are today. We just love the sport, love the game, and we’re having a great time.”
When asked about having to take on West Coast in what was hoped to be a prep race that didn’t take too much out of Accelerate, he said. “You take on all comers. That’s just what it is. Would we have preferred not to see him? Sure, but Accelerate should be ready to go and we’re looking forward to running him.”
That also sounds like an old school owner who loves seeing his horses run and is willing to take on all comers. The comments above are not common from owners these days, which is what made them so refreshing to hear.
Rick Hammerle, racing secretary at Santa Anita, said of Kosta and Pete, “They are the kind of owners everyone roots for. They never complain, they’re great winners, and they’re great losers.”
That also sounds like the old school owners who knew how to win and accepted defeat gracefully and with class.
Kosta and Pete are from Delano, Calif. in the San Joaquin Valley, where they grow grapes and oranges. According to Kosta, after using rock, paper, scissors to determine their fate in racing, it was Pete who stayed home and handled the business, while Kosta, giving in to his midlife crisis, focused on buying horses and building a stable that, as he put it, “went from a dream to a hobby to a full-fledged business.”
Their first big thrill was being introduced to trainer John Sadler, never thinking he would agree to train for “a couple of farmers.” But Sadler started off claiming a horse, and their magical ride had begun, as they enjoyed getting to know each one of their horses, while letting Sadler do his job and never interfering, which still holds true.
“John not only trained our horses, he trained us,” he said. “He took the time to groom us.”
So, from claiming horses, they began attending the 2-year-old sales, then purchasing horses privately, and now buying yearlings.
Amazingly, the top-class horses started rolling in, with the help of David Ingordo at the sales. Lady of Shamrock got the snowball rolling when she captured the 2012 American Oaks and Del Mar Oaks to become their first grade 1 winner. Then came Iotapa, who added the grade 1 Vanity and Clement Hirsch Stakes; Hard Aces, winner of the grade 1 Gold Cup at Santa Anita, and placing in that race twice, as well as the Santa Anita Handicap and numerous other stakes; Stellar Wind, champion 3-year-old filly and winner of five grade 1 stakes and earnings of almost $3 million; Accelerate, who achieved the rare feat of winning the Santa Anita Handicap, Gold Cup, and Pacific Classic in the same year; and their latest sensation, the undefeated Catalina Cruiser.
That is an extraordinary accomplishment in such a short period of time. And Kosta is enjoying every minute of it. As he says, he has no hobbies, so racing has encompassed his life.
He has seen Accelerate mature from a good 3-year-old, winning the Los Alamitos Derby and Shared Belief Stakes and placing in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile to an occasionally brilliant 4-year-old, crushing Arrogate in the San Diego Handicap and placing in the Pacific Classic, to a sensational 5-year-old, sweeping the Santa Anita Handicap, Gold Cup, and Pacific Classic, winning those three prestigious races by an average margin of 7 1/2 lengths and also capturing the grade 1 Awesome Again and grade 2 San Pasqual Stakes, knocking Triple Crown winner Justify off the No. 1 spot on the NTRA weekly poll.
Because they let Accelerate do what he was born to do, they were able to remind us just how much horses can improve and peak at 4 and 5, something that has gotten lost over the years. They allow their horses to race as “mature adults” rather than retire them as “teenagers” who never get the chance to reach their full potential.
They could have easily retired Stellar Wind after her championship year at 3 and earning $886,000. And they certainly could have retired her at the end of her 4-year-old campaign after she defeated the great Beholder in the grade 1 Clement Hirsch and Zenyatta Stakes. But they decided to keep her in training as a 5-year-old, and all she did was win another three grade 1 stakes and earn $800,000.
Why keep her in training at 5 when they could have gotten millions for her at the Keeneland November sale?
“We owed it to her to be a racehorse as long as she was enjoying it,” Kosta said.
That pretty much tells you all you need to know about Hronis Racing. You can bet Alfred Vanderbilt, C.V. Whitney, John Galbreath, Ogden Phipps, and Joseph Widener are smiling down knowing there is one owner who still shares their values and sportsmanship and loves the game and the horses as they did back when racing was truly the Sport of Kings.