07/26/2017 11:56AM

Hronis, Sadler reap success they've sown

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Benoit & Associates
Owner Kosta Hronis (left) and trainer John Sadler celebrate with jockey Santiago Gonzalez after Hard Aces won the Cougar II Handicap at Del Mar last July.

DEL MAR, Calif. – The same care and nurturing that Kosta Hronis utilizes growing grapes and citrus in central California was practiced by trainer John Sadler when Hronis got into racing seven years ago. Both are bearing bumper crops.

Hronis’s family-owned farm is one of the leading produce growers in California, and with Sadler as his trainer, Hronis’s racing operation – which includes his brother Pete – has become a perennial leader on the Southern California circuit.

They are in the midst of a week at Del Mar that may provide their greatest yield yet.

Last Saturday, Accelerate won the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap, defeating Arrogate, and this Sunday, their champion Stellar Wind goes for her third Grade 1 victory of the year in as many starts when she tries to win the $300,000 Clement Hirsch Stakes for the second straight year. In between, their Hard Aces was scheduled to go for a repeat in the Grade 3 Cougar II Handicap on Wednesday, and on Friday they send out Edwards Going Left in the $150,000 Real Good Deal Stakes for California-breds.

They’ve come a long way from Feb. 17, 2010, a date seared into Hronis’s memory because it’s when he claimed his first horse with Sadler.

A month later, Sadler was going to Florida for a 2-year-olds in training sale. Hronis wanted in.

“No, you’re too new,” Sadler replied.

“Next year?” Hronis asked.

“Maybe next year,” Sadler said.

“When I first got introduced to John, I didn’t think there was any chance I could get in his barn,” Hronis, 58, recalled this past weekend at Sadler’s barn. “But after we had lunch, he took us in.”

Two years after their partnership began, they won their first major race when Lady of Shamrock captured the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks. She also provided Hronis with an early lesson, courtesy of Sadler.

“I was looking at a list of races for her to run in and John said, ‘Don’t look. Let her show us when she’s ready to go,’ ” Hronis said. “That’s the greatest thing about John – the horse comes first. He taught me that the horse makes the schedule.”

They have dabbled in claiming – their biggest home run being Iotapa, who was claimed for $50,000 and went on to win the Grade 1 Vanity and Hirsch – but most of their runners now are bought either privately after racing for others, like Stellar Wind and Hard Aces, or at auction, like Accelerate.

Hronis Racing led the owners standings at Del Mar in the summers of 2013 and 2014, and the only reason the brothers finished second in 2016 – denying them three titles in four years – is because California Chrome ran here twice and won both times. But in terms of numbers of horses and quality, this may be their deepest and strongest lineup, with Stellar Wind leading the way.

Stellar Wind was the Eclipse Award-winning 3-year-old filly of 2015, and her championship is still ranked by Hronis as his No. 1 thrill in racing, even after winning the San Diego and knocking off Arrogate.

“Stellar is still the queen of the barn,” Hronis said. “Her races are hard to watch. The expectations are so high all the time.”

Hronis bought Stellar Wind after she raced twice in Maryland for trainer Don Barr in the fall of 2014. Since joining Sadler’s barn, she has won eight times in 12 starts, with Grade 1 victories at ages 3, 4, and 5.

Last year, Stellar Wind defeated Beholder in both the Hirsch and the Grade 1 Zenyatta at Santa Anita, putting her in position to nail down her second straight Eclipse Award. But she lost all chance with a dreadful break at the start of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, which Beholder won by a nose over Songbird. Stellar Wind was fourth.

This year, Stellar Wind returned from a five-month layoff to win the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn, then took the Beholder Mile, bringing her Grade 1 haul to five races.

“We decided after her 3-year-old year that if all was good, she’d run at 4 and 5,” said Sadler, who turns 61 on Sunday. “It was a big decision, because she’s so valuable.”

That decision shows Hronis’s commitment to racing. So, too, his schedule when Del Mar is running. He will often fly down for races, then return to the family headquarters in Delano by nightfall to oversee the next morning’s harvest. Last weekend, Hronis left Del Mar on Friday afternoon, returned Saturday for Accelerate’s race, then left again Sunday. He was to have a similar schedule this week, flying back and forth for races while still working long hours at the farm.

“Grapes, and if not grapes, oranges,” he said.

His labor is bearing fruit, both off the track and on.