Trainer John Sadler and owner Kostas Hronis are taking home the cash and trophy as their California-based horse Higher Power won the 2019 Pacific Classic this weekend.

2019 victor Higher Power
Higher Power, under hot jock Flavien Prat, sends eastern invaders home with their tails between their legs in the 2019 Pacific Classic. (Image: AP)

If the names sounds familiar, its because the same trainer/owner combination also were victorious in last year’s edition of the $1 million, 1 1/4 mile event at Del Mar. In 2018 it was with Accelerate. He was also second in the 2018 Horse of the Year voting to Triple Crown winner Justify.

Higher Power — $21.20-$9.40-$7.30 — coasted to the wire as an emphatic five lengths-plus winner over fellow long shots Draft Pick — $17.40-$10.00 –– and Mongolian Groom — $7.20.

The field lacked a star attraction, but did draw a foursome of contenders from the east coast. But none of them finished in the money.

Top attention could’ve gone to locally based McKinzie, winner of the 1 1/8 mile Whitney Stakes two weeks ago at Saratoga, but his best distance seems to be 1 1/8 miles.

Higher Power and McKinzie are likely to slug it out in the Breeders’ Cup Classic Nov. 2 at Santa Anita. Like the Grade 1 Pacific Classic, the Breeders’ Cup Classic is also contested at 1 1/4 mile.

Jockey Flavien Prat in Midst of Banner Year

Del Mar’s leading rider Flavien Prat and Higher Power saw to it that the four east coast invaders Tenfold (4th) War Story (6th) Seeking the Soul (7th) and the well-regarded Quip (9th) were returning home with only the dregs of the $1 million purse. Pratt is on a tremendous roll in 2019 as the rider of official Kentucky Derby winner Country House and Queen’s Plate victor One Bad Boy.

The final time of the race was 2:02:43 on Del Mar’s deeply cushioned racing surface — a surface the eastern contingent apparently did not like.

In the words of veteran Del Mar track announcer Trevor Denman at the head of the stretch, “[Higher Power] never gave them a chance.”

Prat spoke to reporters after his big win:

“There were no special instructions, just to make him comfortable. We were in a good spot all the way around. At the three-eighths (pole) I asked, and he took up the bit and went from there. He was traveling well all the way around. I thought he would run a good race today. He had been training so well, I thought he’d have a good one in him today.”

From the jubilant Sadler:

“The second time is just as sweet. It developed pretty much the way we thought. 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.”

Newcomer Higher Power, Catalina Cruiser in Sadler’s Potent Equine Arsenal

Many thought Sadler’s Catalina Cruiser would contest the signature race in Del Mar’s highly popular summer season. However, earlier in the week Sadler said the San Diego Handicap winner would now concentrate on shorter, one-turn races rather than distance events like the Pacific Classic.

Apparently, the wily Sadler had an additional ace to play with the recently acquired Higher Power. The four-year-old son of top sire Medaglia D’Oro’s first start for Hronis and Sadler came in the Grade 1 Gold Cup at Santa Anita. There the colt finished fifth, by a well-beaten 7 1/4 lengths. Next, he won an allowance race on turf before finishing second, beaten by a half-length, in the one-mile Wickerr Stakes on Del Mar’s turf earlier in the meet. The switch back to the dirt in the Pacific Classic fortifies Higher Power’s overall record to five wins from 13 starts for earnings of almost $800,000.

For a complete chart of the 2019 Pacific Classic, click here.