Kosta Hronis skipped across the stage of the Sport of Kings Theatre at Gulfstream Park on Thursday night to accept the Eclipse Award for owners of the year. He profusely thanked his trainer, John Sadler, his brother and co-owner of Hronis Racing, Pete, and all the usual suspects.
As he was wrapping up his speech at the Florida venue, he ever so slightly choked up, took a quick glance upward and said: “This is a little boy’s dream come true.”
It will be one of Hronis’ least emotional moments this weekend.
Saturday will mark the last race of one of the horses that made Hronis Racing the leading money winner in 2018. Accelerate, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, will head off to the breeding shed after running in the $9-million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park on Saturday. He’s the 9-5 morning-line favorite for the 1 1/8-mile race, which is the richest in North America.
“For sure, it’s going to be very emotional,” Hronis said of seeing his now 6-year-old horse run for the last time, adding that the end of Accelerate’s career “will be both relief and happiness. But the good news is, we’ve partnered with [breeder] Lane’s End so I’ll always be part of his life. I’ll remain with him the rest of his life. We’ll always be together.”
Accelerate is already booked with 140 mares, at a fee of $20,000 for each live foal.
It’s unusual to see an exceptional horse still running at age 6. Justify, the 13th winner of the Triple Crown, retired after six races as a 3-year-old. American Pharoah, the previous Triple Crown winner, also retired at 3.
Keeping Accelerate around this long was always part of the plan.
“We were able to take our time with him,” Hronis said of the colt’s late start. He didn’t race until April 17 as a 3-year-old, taking him out of any consideration for the Triple Crown.
Accelerate didn’t break his maiden until his fourth start and then won the Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar and the Los Alamitos Derby.
“I remember when we won the Los Al Derby and John [Sadler] turned to me and said, ‘We have a really special racehorse. I just have to do a good job managing his career.’ I got excited when John got excited. When John said that, I knew he was a serious racehorse.”
Accelerate finished his 3-year-old year with a third in the Breeders’ Cup Mile.
As a 4-year-old, he finished second or third in his first four races but still lacked that signature win. Then, he went up against Arrogate, who won everything as a late-developing 3-year-old and was equally successful as a 4-year-old in the San Diego Handicap. Accelerate won, although Arrogate was clearly not at his best. He returned to the Breeders’ Cup Mile, where he finished ninth.
It was last year that everything fell into place. Accelerate won six of seven starts, including five Grade 1 stakes. His only loss was a second in the Oaklawn Handicap to City of Light, who is also in the Pegasus.
“He got going late, but age 4 and 5 were always on the radar and fit John Sadler’s schedule,” Hronis said. “We never got greedy. We let him tell us when he was ready, and it all worked out. Sometimes you just have to be patient.”
There is little doubt that Accelerate needed the time and that a lot of that growth was mental. He’s now used to his role as a star and, after Thursday, Eclipse Award winner as older male horse.
“You could see maturity as he got older,” Hronis said. “It’s just the way he handles himself around the barn. He acts like a pro. It’s like he knows he’s the king of the barn, the guy everyone is looking up to, and he’s soaking it up.”
This will be only the third time in 23 races that Accelerate has raced outside of Southern California. He finished second in the Oaklawn Handicap and won the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs in his other starts.
“They’re both doing very well,” assistant trainer Juan Leyva told Gulfstream publicity earlier this week about Accelerate and stablemate Catapult, who is running in the $7-million Pegasus World Cup Turf. “They’ve taken to their surroundings very well. The first day was just getting acclimated to the humidity, but now they are doing awesome.”
Hronis Racing was the top-earning ownership group last year at around $7.34 million, of which Accelerate contributed a little more than $5 million. The previous year, they were 20th.
“I always looked at the Equibase figures to see how we were doing compared to last year,” Hronis said. “We were always inching up, making progress. Then you have a year like this and we’re No. 1 in the country. What do we do next? I think we try and do that again.”