12/23/2009 1:00AM

Three-year-olds will be Sadler's key in 2010

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It was not as if John Sadler burst onto the scene as a new face when he won the first training title of his career at the Hollywood Park fall meeting in 2007. He had been training since 1978.

He just needed to pass one of life's milestones - Sadler had turned 50.

"I'm a middle-aged guy now," he said. "You're supposed to have your best years between the ages of 50 and 60."

Sadler, 53, is living that belief.

Since 2007, Sadler has won seven training titles, including three in each of the last two years. In 2008, he won titles at three straight major meetings - the Hollywood Park spring-summer, Del Mar, and Oak Tree. This year, he won the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting, Del Mar, and the Hollywood Park fall meeting, which ended last weekend.

The success will continue in 2010, he predicts, beginning with the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting, which starts Saturday. At the 2008-09 winter-spring meeting at Santa Anita, Sadler won 40 races, one more than Mike Mitchell. He said he thinks he has the horses in his 90-horse team to repeat as leading trainer again.

"You never know where horses will take you," he said. "It's hard to gauge. We'll be strong. Usually, we get the most out of our horses, whether we have the big horses or not."

What has made Sadler's stable so effective in recent years is overall growth and diversity. He has horses for every category - maiden claimers, high-priced maidens, rank-and-file claimers, allowance horses, and stakes horses. It has been the lesser horses that have carried the stable in recent months. This year, Sadler has won 17 stakes, but only five since July 1 and one in Southern California since the end of Del Mar - Bestdressed in the On Trust Handicap at Hollywood Park last month. He has not won a Grade 1 race since October 2008.

Sadler thinks the soon-to-be 3-year-olds can carry the team in major stakes in coming months.

Among the most promising are the Del Mar maiden winner Sidney's Candy; Dave in Dixie, who was sixth in the Grade 1 Norfolk in October in his second start and is being aimed for a February return; Get a Grip, an English import who won a maiden race on the all-weather track at Kempton Park in September; and Hurricane Ike, who was second in the Jack Goodman Stakes at Santa Anita in October, his best result in four stakes.

"We've got a good group of 2-year-olds turning 3, and that's the key group for us," Sadler said.

Sadler seemingly has always had a good horse in the barn in the last few decades. His first nationally prominent runner was Melair, the filly who beat Snow Chief in the 1986 Silver Screen Handicap before Sadler was 30. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, sprinters such as Olympic Prospect and Valiant Pete carried the stable. Corby won the 1993 San Felipe Stakes and was sixth in that year's Kentucky Derby, which remains Sadler's only starter in that race.

Later in the 1990s, Track Gal won three consecutive runnings of the Rancho Bernardo Handicap at Del Mar. In the last five years, the big stakes wins have become more frequent - Our New Recruit in the $2 million Golden Shaheen in Dubai in 2004, Musique Toujours in the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic in 2005, Healthy Addiction in the Grade 1 Santa Margarita Handicap in 2006, Black Mamba in the Grade 1 John Mabee Handicap in 2008, and Cost of Freedom in the Grade 1 Ancient Title Stakes in 2008.

He has had 24 starters in Grade 1 stakes this year, including three second-place finishes. Those are the sort of races he and his clients have emphasized, with purses for claiming races declining on this circuit.

"We're getting better horses and more horses," Sadler said. "The only thing that we'll be lacking in 2010 is claiming horses. The purse structure we have for those horses is weak right now. People don't want them, but you do wind up with them."

Last year, his stable had career-best earnings of $7,355,886. This year, through Sunday, the figure was more than $5.6 million.

"That's without the major race win," Sadler said. "We have the horses that can win a major race, if things go right."

Even when he did not win the training title, Sadler was in contention. This year, Sadler was just as satisfied to finish second at the Hollywood Park spring-summer and Oak Tree meetings.

"It shows that we can be so consistent," he said. "Some of the guys beat us at a couple of the meetings, but we were first or second. I'm pleased with that."

The absence of a Grade 1 win is on his mind. "That was the lacking element," he said. "We need to fill that in."

Sadler has had clients such as Jerry and Ann Moss, Dave and Herb Alpert, and Lee and Susan Searing (CRK Stables) for years. Others such as Gary and Cecil Barber, Joyride Racing, Ike and Dawn Thrash, and Tom Mankiewicz have joined the stable in this decade.

The stable is large enough that there are divisions at Hollywood and Santa Anita. Wherever Sadler is not, assistant trainer Larry Benavidez directs the team. Benavidez, 37, has been with Sadler in various capacities since 1989.

Support from those owners and the help of longtime staff have given Sadler reasons to expect success in coming months.

"We'll have horses in a position to step up, so let's hope they have what it takes to set up," Sadler said. "You never know who's going to do what. We're looking to have another good year. I don't anticipate there would be that much change."