03/05/2014 1:04PM

Kentucky Derby: Sadler has his best shot yet with Kristo, Kobe's Back, Candy Boy

Shigeki Kikkawa
Candy Boy, the winner of the Robert B. Lewis Stakes last month at Santa Anita, is one of three Kentucky Derby hopefuls trained by John Sadler, along with Kristo and Kobe's Back.

ARCADIA, Calif. – John Sadler has been trudging through the backstretch at Santa Anita for more than three decades now, steadily rising to the elite among the trainers based in Southern California. He has developed a highly successful stable that competes across all levels, from stakes racing to claimers, turf to dirt, sprinters to routers.

Once typecast as a trainer of sprinters, owing to early success with the likes of Olympic Prospect, Frost Free, Track Gal, and the mercurial Melair, there is now mountains of evidence – a versatile filly like Switch, a long-distance turf horse like Vagabond Shoes – that Sadler’s training acumen knows no bounds.

Where Sadler has yet to break through, however, is on the national front. Sadler, 57, has won training titles at Santa Anita, Del Mar, and Hollywood Park, and he had his best year yet in 2013, with purse earnings of $7,727,780 that placed him ninth among his brethren. But he has yet to win a Triple Crown race or a Breeders’ Cup race, though he has had two seconds and four thirds in Breeders’ Cup races.

The Triple Crown, specifically the Kentucky Derby, was never a focal point of his operation. He had a runner in the Derby for the first time in 1993 with Corby, who finished sixth. He didn’t return until 2010, when Sidney’s Candy finished 17th and Line of David 18th in a 20-horse field. He hasn’t been there since. Three runners total.

Yet if things fall just right over the next two months, Sadler could equal that total this year alone.

Sadler has three of the leading members of this year’s Derby crop. The long-fused Candy Boy, winner of last month’s Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita, is awaiting the Santa Anita Derby on April 5. Kobe’s Back, who rallied powerfully to capture the San Vicente Stakes eight days after Candy Boy won the Lewis, is headed to Oaklawn Park for the Rebel Stakes on March 15.

This Saturday, it will be Kristo’s turn to see if he can remain on the Derby trail when he competes in the Grade 2, $300,000 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita in a field that has both quality and depth, what with four members of the Derby Watch top 20 scheduled to compete.

The prominence of Sadler’s 3-year-olds coincides with his steady evolvement toward better-quality stock. Sadler always has had good horses. He’s just got more of them now, and though he still dabbles in claimers, that part of his operation has been truncated to where he focuses on upper-level claimers.

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Sadler trains approximately 90 horses, the main string at Santa Anita and the second string, formerly at Hollywood Park, now at San Luis Rey Downs.

“I like action,” Sadler said. “I like competing at different levels. But we’ve been shifting to better horses.”

Of the three Derby prospects, Kristo, by Distorted Humor, probably was the most highly regarded last summer. A $500,000 yearling purchase by owner Kosta Hronis, Kristo trained so spectacularly that he was the odds-on favorite for his debut last summer at Del Mar. He took three starts to defeat maidens, a victory that coincided with his first try around two turns, then was second last time out to Midnight Hawk in the Sham Stakes.

Candy Boy and Kobe’s Back are owned by the C R K Stable of Lee and Susan Searing, who, like Hronis, have been longtime clients of Sadler’s. Candy Boy is a homebred by the stallion Candy Ride out of the stakes-winning In Excess mare She’s an Eleven. Kobe’s Back, a son of Flatter, was purchased for $400,000 one year ago at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. sale of 2-year-olds in training.

“Kristo was a superlative yearling,” Sadler said. “And you look at a horse like Candy Boy, with his pedigree and being such a good-looking horse, who knows what he would have cost had we been trying to buy him, if he wasn’t a homebred? He probably would have been out of our range. Having clients willing to breed horses like that, or step up and spend money like they have, is a huge help to race at this level.”

Corby, Sadler’s first Derby starter, ran well from post 17 in a 19-horse field. He advanced to second at the quarter pole but flattened out late to finish about six lengths behind the victorious Sea Hero. In 2010, both Sidney’s Candy and Line of David tired badly on a sloppy track after being prominent for the first half of the race.

“It was a sea of slop,” Sadler said. “It’s funny, I don’t have a real strong memory of walking over with Corby, but last time, both sets of owners had lots of friends, kids, and grandkids with them, and it was a lot of fun.”

Although he has had limited Derby experience, Sadler is one of the more observant trainers on the grounds – he’s done well claiming first-time starters he espied in the morning – and, being a native of Southern California, for years has seen the ebbs and flows of pre-Derby campaigns here.

“You’re always evolving as a trainer,” Sadler said. “With the Derby, I’ve learned you let them take you there. You can’t force the process. You have to be patient. And you don’t want to go just to go. We started this year with the right types of horses. We don’t have the numbers like the big guys, but we knew these horses had that kind of talent.”

Nevill Mcinerny More than 1 year ago
Does anyone have an extra copy of the March 5th DRF? I will buy it from you. I'm an old friend of John's and would like this issue. Thanks. nevmac@live.com
MD23 More than 1 year ago
Kobe will go farther than people think. Mile and a quarter? Odds say no but it's not out of the question given he is by Flatter, who sired Flat Out, who as we all know ran a mile and a quarter. I happen to think he has a big shot in the Rebel next weekend. Bottom side of the pedigree says one turn. But......I think he can stretch out. I know Sadler wants Kristo to relax tomorrow and sit second or third. I think he will and I think he will run a good race. We'll learn just how good he is in the San Felipe tomorow. Candy Boy will run all day. I really hope he runs well in the SA Derby to get enough points to run in the Kentucky Derby (he only got 10 pts for the Derby in his last race and that probably won't be enough alone.) He will get the mile and a quarter distance. If he runs to his ability there is no reason he shouldn't hit the board in the SA Derby.
rahman Williams More than 1 year ago
California. Chrome or Unstoppable Colby
RICKY More than 1 year ago
sittin on Chrome!
Matt Banchero More than 1 year ago
Mark More than 1 year ago
Looks like you'll have to hold for another day for this one to burn your $ . Scratching
Mark More than 1 year ago
Bayern Rahman
rahman Williams More than 1 year ago
Cory Casebier More than 1 year ago
Does anybody know who Rosario chose in the Rebel cause he was riding Strong Mandate too
rahman Williams More than 1 year ago
Strong mandate
Mark More than 1 year ago
The winner. Strong Mandate
Nicholas SR. More than 1 year ago
Two horse race Strong Mandate and Tapiture, joc Santana is a rising star!
Cory Casebier More than 1 year ago
I think Kobes Back is gonna be a monster can't wait till next Saturday to see him in the Rebel
Joseph Brown More than 1 year ago
Kobe's Back is going to bounce!!!
Craig More than 1 year ago
If Honor Code s in the Rebel,the Sadler horse is running for 2nd.
rahman Williams More than 1 year ago
Here we go with the honor code love fest. How many G1honor code has won. None. He has grade 2 win in a race with a 50 second mile and he barely won that.
Mark More than 1 year ago
And Bayern ? Oh those 50k claimers he beat last out . Lmao
Mark More than 1 year ago
Two words.... 1. Also 2. Ran Can describe all horses below
rahman Williams More than 1 year ago
Just like verrazano, palace malice, overanalyze and charming kitten in 2013 derby. 1. Also 2. Ran One word Participants
RICKY More than 1 year ago
I've been rooting on this horse ever since day one. Victor Espinoza lucky to take this mount off Alberto Delgado. And if what Willie told me is any truth after that smashing win in the King Glorious, this horse is only getting better. And better he did in the California Derby. Even though to me its a suspect group he ran against, his times was good and looked good doing it with ease. Standing there in the winners circle one can only wonder if this ones it. SSSSHHH!!!!!! I hope so. Ill have $50 right on his nose.
Gary Moore More than 1 year ago
Its time for a Cal Bred California chrome