Combatant latest #KyDownsGrad to win Grade 1 stakes

Jennie Rees

Photo: Combatant edges the gray Multiplier to win the Santa Anita Handicap by a neck. Benoit Photo pictures)

Combatant became the 21st horse who raced at Kentucky Downs in the last 10 meets to go on to win a Grade 1 stakes, taking Saturday’s $600,000 Santa Anita Handicap under Joel Rosario. Finishing a neck back in second was 33-1 shot Multiplier, another #KyDownsGrad who rounded out a $187 payoff for the $1 exacta in the seven-horse field.

Then owned by Kentucky Downs co-managing partner Ron Winchell and Willis Horton, Combatant was second by a nose in a $150,000 allowance race at last fall’s meet. Multiplier was sixth of 11 in Kentucky Downs’ Old Friends Stakes.

According to Equibase statistics, Combatant also is the 126th horse to have raced at Kentucky Downs during the last 10 meets that went on to win any kind of graded stakes.

It was Combatant’s first stakes victory, though he had three seconds and four thirds in prior stakes. He was sold for $220,000 at Keeneland’s November sale days after a second-level allowance victory at Churchill Downs. The “Big Cap” was Combatant’s second race for new owner Hronis Racing and trainer John Sadler, who had the favorite for the Santa Anita Handicap in 2019 winner Gift Box, who had to be scratched the morning of his title defense over concerns about filling in an ankle. Instead, Combatant gave Sadler a record third consecutive victory in the storied stakes. He paid $21.20 to win as the fifth choice.

"Obviously we wanted to run Gift Box,” Sadler told Santa Anita's publicity department. “This horse we were considering somewhere else, but I put him in as an insurance policy. He trained really well and it looked like he had no distance limitations to me, so I thought it was a good chance to try him. He's got some pretty good races on his form. He won his last start at Churchill before he came out here. We put some blinkers on him, did some minor changes, and he has responded well.”