Newly minted Grade 1 winner Combatant is headed to Arkansas for his next start, though he'll be familiar with his surroundings when competing in the May 2 Oaklawn Handicap (G2).
Purchased by Hronis Racing LLC in last year’s Keeneland November sale for $220,000, the now 5-year-old ridgling proved to be a wise investment having earned $384,000 in his two races this year.
Last out, he was victorious in the Santa Anita Handicap (G1) after finishing third in his debut for trainer John Sadler in Santa Anita’s San Pasqual Stakes (G2) in February.
“Combatant is training heads-up beautifully here at Santa Anita,” Sadler said this week. “He’ll have had plenty of time off, coming off a career-best race. We’re lucky that Joel Rosario will be there that day.”
The Oaklawn Handicap, run on the Arkansas Derby undercard, moved to its new date after the Kentucky Derby was rescheduled for Sept. 5.
A well-traveled son of Scat Daddy, Combatant has raced at Oaklawn Park six times previously, winning one race and finishing second three times.
“He’s run there before, including last year with Steve Asmussen,” Sadler said of the 5-year-old's former trainer. “He’s run two really solid races for us. We’re excited to take him back there.”
When conditioned by Asmussen, Combatant ran for Winchell Thoroughbreds. He made his debut as a 2-year-old at Churchill Downs in September of 2017, breaking his maiden a month later at the same track.
In December of that year, he traveled to Remington Park, where he finished second in the Remington Springboard Mile.
Early the next year, Combatant made four starts at Oaklawn Park on the 2018 Kentucky Derby trail, finishing second in both the Smarty Jones and Southwest Stakes (G3). He finished third in the Rebel (G2) and fourth in the Arkansas Derby (G1).
After an 18th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, Combatant went on to run at Saratoga, return to Remington Park, go to Zia Park, Santa Anita, Fair Grounds, Oaklawn back to Churchill, then Kentucky Downs and Keeneland. Shew.
On Nov. 8, he made his final start for the Asmussen barn at Churchill Downs, taking an allowance under the Twin Spires. November Combatant found himself once again at Churchill Downs with Asmussen.
“He won a 2X, which is a pretty high-level allowance race," Sadler said. "That’s a hard race to win anywhere in the country. We just felt that those kinds of horses are valuable. They’ve got good value in the handicap division. He has shown us that he’s been right.”
Sadler considers Combatant in peak form for his latest ship.
“He’ll have plenty of time to prepare. He’s actually ahead of schedule,” the trainer said. “The last couple of works were 1:01 breezy types of works. We can put a little more into him whenever we want.”
In his career, Combatant has won four times in 24 starts, but Sadler transformed him from an allowance winner into a Grade 1 winner, similar to the previous Hronis Racing acquisition Gift Box, who missed the Big 'Cap due to an ankle injury.
“I’ve just been fortunate to have a great ownership group behind me in Hronis Racing and Kosta Hronis," Sadler said. "They encourage me all the time. I’m really grateful for them."
Gift Box was purchased privately from owner W.S. Farish, who previously had the 7-year-old son of Twirling Candy in the Chad Brown barn. Gift Box won the 2019 Santa Anita Handicap for Sadler and Hronis, who have teamed-up to win the race in three straight years, as they also won it in 2018 with Accelerate.
“We’ve got (bloodstock agent) David Ingordo based in Kentucky doing the grunt work, looking at the horses, sorting through them and giving me reports," Sadler said of identifying such prospects. "I make the calls on a lot of this stuff and we jump in there."