07/20/2009 12:00AM

Sadler poised for hot summer

Benoit & Associates
Trainer John Sadler comes into the Del Mar meet loaded with stakes horses like Black Mamba and Whatsthescript.

DEL MAR, Calif. - "Seinfeld" had the "Summer of George." Del Mar might just have the summer of John.

John Sadler is going to hit the ground running at Del Mar. With Whatsthescript in the Grade 1, $350,000 Eddie Read Handicap on Saturday, Dawn Before Dawn and Royal Taat in the $85,000 Osunitas Handicap on Sunday, and horses like Black Mamba, Noble Court, Oil Man, and the exciting 2-year-old colt Hurricane Ike ready for upcoming stakes either here or at Arlington Park, Sadler looks primed to continue solidifying his position as one of the pre-eminent trainers on the West Coast.

"I'm going to be busy," he said, laughing.

Sadler, who turns 53 next week, has been a mainstay on this circuit for 30 years. He first built his reputation with brilliantly fast horses like Melair, Olympic Prospect, and Track Gal, along with a healthy dose of claiming horses, but in recent years has upgraded the quality and quantity of his stock. He now trains about 100 horses, housed both here and at Santa Anita, and they compete across all divisions - long, short, turf, main track, young, old - at the highest levels of the sport.

He is in the midst of the best run of his career. Sadler was the leading trainer last summer at Del Mar, when he won 31 races, 12 more than second-place Mike Mitchell, and he took down that fall's Oak Tree title at Santa Anita, too. He is coming off a second-place finish at Hollywood Park to Doug O'Neill. Sadler has quietly crept up the list of all-time stakes-winning trainers at Del Mar. Obvious names like Bob Baffert, Charlie Whittingham, and Ron McAnally hold the first three spots. Sadler is now 10th, and needs just four stakes wins over the next seven weeks to move past the late Tommy Doyle into ninth.

"One thing I'm proud of is that we've always won with the stock we've had," Sadler said. "It was good for us to win the title last year, and since then, things have been steady. I think we'll have another good meet, but it'll be a little different. I've got more 2-year-olds and less claimers. Due to the economy, this year my clients if they had a choice were looking for young horses with some upside versus claimers."

Sadler's rise has not been without controversy. Last August, en route to his title at Del Mar, his barn was raided by investigators of the California Horse Racing Board at a time when the board was gradually tightening penalties for steroid use. Then, when discussing steroids at a board meeting the day after the barn raid, Richard Shapiro, at the time the board's chairman, waved a piece of paper and said, "Just look at the top of the trainers' and owners' list," insinuating that those people were being notified of steroid use. The brothers Gary and Cecil Barber, whose trainers include Sadler, were the leading owners here last summer.

The Barbers, in a prepared statement following Shapiro's comments, said "to the best of our knowledge" they "have complied with all rules and regulations." Shapiro has since resigned from the board.

The board's steroid ban was being phased in last summer. Last August, a positive test would go on a trainer's record, and there was public notification, but no further penalty. Not until the Del Mar meet ended was the rule tightened so that a steroid violation was subject to loss of purse for the owner and suspension for the trainer.

Sadler has had zero violations since that rule was enacted.

"I think I was unfairly cast in an unfavorable light," Sadler said. "Fortunately I had wonderful support from the people I care about, wonderful support from my clients."

Sadler, a longtime fan of the sport, first worked at Del Mar as a hot walker for trainer Tom Pratt. He also served time as an assistant to noted veterinarian Dr. Jack Robbins. He won his first race as a trainer 30 years ago.

Now, they come in bunches. And Sadler is primed for a hot summer. Whatsthescript, winner of the Del Mar Mile last summer, tuned up for Saturday's Eddie Read by finishing third in the American Handicap. Dawn Before Dawn and Royal Taat give Sadler a strong one-two punch Sunday in the Osunitas. Black Mamba, the winner of the Beverly Hills Handicap at Hollywood on June 28, will run next in either the Grade 1 Beverly D. at Arlington on Aug. 8 or the Grade 1 John Mabee Stakes here on Aug. 16. Dawn After Dawn, another Sadler runner, is also pointing for the Mabee.

Oil Man, the winner of the Cinema Handicap, will run next in the Grade 1 Secretariat at Arlington on Aug. 8, then the Grade 2 Del Mar Derby on Sept. 6. The late-running sprinter Noble Court, third in the Triple Bend Handicap, is awaiting the Grade 1 Pat O'Brien on Sept. 6. Hurricane Ike, who won his debut July 5, will likely run next in the Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes on Aug. 9. And the top-class sprinter Cost of Freedom, sidelined since late last year, is nearing a return. Sadler thinks he could be ready for the Pirate's Bounty Stakes on closing day, Sept. 9.

"We've got a lot ready to run," Sadler said. "I'm looking forward to it."