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After the first match race in Santa Anita history, John Sadler couldn’t help but gloat a bit Saturday.
Valiant Pete’s trainer had every reason. His 5-year-old gelding did what most horsemen and handicappers felt he couldn’t do–beat the quarter horse Griswold.
Despite being a half-length behind after the break, Valiant Pete stayed in close contact outside the 5-year-old Merridoc gelding, then won a stretch battle by a neck in 44 1/5 seconds for the four furlongs. His time equaled the world record for the distance.
Along with satisfaction came a healthy reward for Sadler and owners John Coelho and Pete Valenti. The purse for the match was $100,000, winner take all.
“This is like winning a $200,000 stakes, so we’d be happy to keep running in these,” Sadler said.
In all probability, there will be a Valiant Pete-Griswold II. Seconds after Valiant Pete’s even-money upset, there was discussion about a rematch at 870 yards at Hollywood Park.
“Thank God, we didn’t follow the local brain trust and print media,” Sadler said. “I was getting nervous. Once they cast me in the role of underdog, I just thought we’d go along with the role. But I thought all along it would be a close race and a good race. I think some of the pre-race analysis may have been a little shallow.
“One thing that wasn’t considered is when they run a quarter horse meet, they run on a harder, faster surface. It’s hard to compare those times. I think our home ground was a key factor. I thought we may have deserved to be the second choice, but I thought it would be a very close race.
“I wanted to be close (early), no question. (Valiant Pete) can run the first eighth in 10 seconds, and I can’t believe any quarter horse can run it any quicker. We emphasized gate training for this race. My instructions to (jockey) Julio (Garcia) were to ride as hard as he could into the first turn and just ride to keep as close as you can. I thought this horse was very well suited to this race because he has such good gate quickness.”
Griswold’s connections were gracious in defeat after the 5-year-old’s three-race victory streak ended.
“I want a rematch, buddy,” trainer Dan Francisco said while shaking Sadler’s hand. “I guess we have one. That was the deal, but I don’t know when.
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