Southern California-based trainer John Sadler holds victories in a couple of Oaklawn’s signature races – 2010 Arkansas Derby (G1) (Line of David) and 2017 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) (Stellar Wind) – but before 2020, had never had never kept a division at the Hot Springs track. He enters the final two days of the season with 15 wins, good enough for sixth in the trainer’s standings, and could add to his stakes total should Hronis Racing LLC’s Combatant win Saturday’s $600,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2).
“We’ve really enjoyed it,” Sadler said. “Unfortunately, due to the circumstances, I couldn’t get there as much as I would have liked. As far as an overall meet, we’ve had a good meet. We could have had a great meet. Ollie’s Candy (second, Apple Blossom Handicap) and Flagstaff (third, Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3)) had tough beats. They were really close. Ran bang up races. Overall, I’m very happy. It’s been a great experience. I can’t say enough good things about the Cella family.”
Combatant was a top 3-year-old at Oaklawn in 2018, finishing “on the board” in three of Oaklawn’s four Kentucky Derby preps and fourth in the Arkansas Derby (G1) while trained by Steve Asmussen. Combatant closed out his 4-year-old season with a victory in an allowance race at Churchill Downs and then entered the Keeneland November sale where he was purchased by his present connections for $220,000. He quickly rewarded them with a third in the San Pasqual Stakes (G2) Feb. 1 and a win the Santa Anita Handicap (G1) March 7.
“He put in a good third in the prep for the Big Cap and then ran really well in the Big Cap,” Sadler said. “He’s a horse that is doing really well right now. He was a good horse when we got him. He was coming off a win at CD. We got him out here. My thought is there’s always room in the handicap division. He’s not disappointed us. He’s training great.”
Combatant will be cutting back from a 1 1/4 miles to 1 1/8 miles, but Sadler doesn’t think that will be a problem for the Scat Daddy horse.
“A mile and one eighth is good for him,” Sadler said. “He’s proven he can go farther. He’s shortening up a bit and that’s the handicapping factor, but you usually get a good pace (at Oaklawn). We have a good rider (Joel Rosario). “We’re just hoping we can catch a good pace upfront. We came close a few years ago with Accelerate. We put on a good show with him and City of Light. I don’t think this horse will disappoint.”
Oaklawn Park Press Release
Photo: Combatant gallops at Oaklawn in 2018. Credit: Coady Photography