10/27/2011 3:39PM

Hovdey: Sadler loaded for shot at other Cup

Barbara D. Livingston
John Sadler's Breeders' Cup hopes fell by the wayside, but he has plenty of chances in Saturday's California Cup.

John Sadler was asked if there was someone out there sticking pins into a John Sadler Breeders’ Cup voodoo doll. The trainer had a right to wonder.

At one point, Sadler had five-pack of Breeders’ Cup hopefuls lined up and ready to fire big time next week at Churchill Downs. Celtic New Year, a clockwork consistent son of North Light, paid his own way to the Turf winning the win-and-yer-in Del Mar Handicap. Zazu likewise punched her ticket to the Ladies’ Classic with a comprehensive victory in the Lady’s Secret Stakes at Santa Anita. Cozi Rosie won the John C. Mabee at Del Mar and finished a charging second in the Yellow Ribbon, putting her on target for the Filly and Mare Turf, while Switch, second in the 2010 Filly and Mare Sprint, always had that race in mind again this time around.

Then there was Twirling Candy, the James Dean of California’s best older horses, brilliant in both reputation and occasional appearance. His narrow misses in the Hollywood Gold Cup and Pacific Classic stamped him as a Breeders’ Cup Classic contender. When a training setback shifted him toward the Dirt Mile, no one batted an eye. He’d proven he could win races from seven to nine furlongs with a hoof tied behind his back.

Then reality came to roost. Zazu injured a shoulder. Twirling Candy’s minor foot trouble morphed into a career-ending ligament. And Celtic New Year is staying home because of “issues” that are still being diagnosed.

“Zazu’s prognosis for next year is a hundred percent,” Sadler said. “Once I got through the initial disappointment to the good news behind it, I was okay.”

To drown his sorrows, Sadler, at least, will have the California Cup on Saturday at Santa Anita, with entrants in all five races. Assistant trainer Larry Benavidez will do the honors, though, while Sadler flies to Kentucky that afternoon to get his two remaining fillies ready for their Breeders’ Cup dates.

“At first, I thought a couple of ours stood out,“ Sadler said of the Cal Cup. “Then I took a closer look. There are some tough races on the card.”

Stoney Fleece, a son of Decarchy entered in the $100,000 Cal Cup Juvenile, has carried the colors of Gary and Cecil Barber to two wins in three starts since being claimed, most recently scoring at a mile on the grass at Santa Anita, which made sense since he is a son of the gifted turf mare Gold Fleece, trained by Sadler to win the 1992 Buena Vista at Santa Anita.

“The next year she ran a mile and one-eighth in the Gamely Handicap at Hollywood Park in 1:45 and four – and didn’t win,” Sadler said. “She finished second to Toussaud that day. When Stoney was in for thirty-two, I said I’ve got to claim him because of his mother.”

Sadler’s connection to many of his other horses runs similarly deep. One Magical Girl, entered in the $100,000 Juvenile Fillies, is a daughter of Sadler’s Golden Shaheen winner Our New Recruit owned by Timothy Mickelson (Phil‘s younger brother), while Tiz Argent, Sadler’s hope in the $175,000 Cal Cup Classic, is by Tiznow’s brother Tizbud, who was trained by Sadler to win the Cal Cup Classic in 2003.

Sadler won the first Cal Cup Sprint in 1990 with Valiant Pete and in 2001 with Ceeband. Lee and Susan Searing’s Courtside will represent the barn this time around, and hopes are high for the son of Cindago (also trained by Sadler), who has worked his way up from running in $32,000 claiming events. This will be Courtside’s first stakes race of any kind.

Finally, Sadler will have West Ruler, owned by the trainer’s own La Cresta Farms, in the $125,000 Cal Cup Distaff at 6 1/2 furlongs down the hill. A daughter of Tribal Rule, West Ruler has finished in the money in 10 of her 11 starts, a record that includes a respectable third to Breeders’ Cup-bound Ultra Blend in the B. Thoughtful at Hollywood Park last spring.

“She is Tom Mankiewicz’s gift to me,” said Sadler, referring to the Hollywood screenwriter and diehard racing fan, who owned the major stakes winners Victory Encounter and Dearest Trickski. Mankiewicz died in July 2010.

Sadler’s Cal Cup bunch is typical of his business profile. He trains both quality and quantity for a whole lot of people, affording him access to just about every race a condition book or stakes schedule has to offer. Still, to put things in perspective – too much #@*%#! perspective as Spinal Tap would put it – Sadler could sweep all five Cal Cup races and still earn only as much as Zazu might have won for a second-place finish in her Breeders’ Cup race. Of this he prefers not to think.

“I don’t if I’ll be watching the Ladies Classic,” Sadler said. “Trainers find a way to blank stuff out pretty easy.”

Sadler has yet to win a Breeders’ Cup event after 29 tries, despite sending forth such good ones as Track Gal, Olympic Prospect, Sidney’s Candy, and Cost of Freedom, who missed by a nose and a head in the 2009 BC Sprint. He is definitely due.

“I don’t want to beat myself up too bad about that,“ Sadler said. “I’ve got no right to complain.”

Instead, Sadler takes some comfort in the number of starters Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel went through before winning his first Breeders Cup race.

“I’m not 0 for 52 yet,” Sadler said.

And if he ends up there, so what? By the time of his death in November 2009, Frankel had won six Breeders’ Cup races and more than $13 million in Breeders’ Cup purses, second only to Wayne Lukas.