Kosta and Pete Hronis, the Greek-American racehorse owners from California, had a big winner this past weekend — so big that they will be going to the $6-million Breeder’s Cup in November of this year.
Hronis Racing’s thoroughbred “Tripoli” came in first at the $1 Million Pacific Classic Stakes at Del Mar Racetrack in California last Saturday.
Tripoli came off the rail, and with Tiago Pereira in the saddle, went around “Tizamagician” to take the lead coming into the homestretch, and went on to win the Classic by an impressive 1 1/4 lengths.
Tripoli ran 1 1/4 miles in 2:02.37 to earn his first stakes victory under the Brazilian-born jockey. This was Pereira’s first win in a million-dollar race in the United States.
Breeder’s Cup invite comes after Kentucky Derby this year
After the race, Pereira was quoted by the Associated Press as saying “When it was time to run, I had plenty of horse. But once we got in front, he started looking around, waiting on other horses. I looked around and knew we were not going to get caught.”
The 4-year-old colt, who is trained by the Hronis’ longtime friend John Sadler, paid $15, $7.80 and $4.80 at odds of 6-1.
The win earned him and his Greek-American owners an automatic berth to the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, which will be held at Del Mar on November 6.
“Magic On Tap,” the horse that is trained by the legendary Bob Baffert, finished last in the nine-horse field.
Tripoli, who didn’t race at all as a 2-year-old, ran on turf in his first 11 starts before being switched to dirt tracks in June. He finished second in the San Diego Handicap last month at Del Mar in his debut in a stakes race. He has four wins in 14 career starts and has already earned $811,960.
Kostas Hronis, who owns the horse with his brother Pete Hronis, told reporters “This horse has matured and just keeps coming along, and today he proved himself. We didn’t know if he could go a mile and a quarter, but today we found out.”
Tripoli gave Hronis Racing its third win in the Pacific Classic Stakes; their horse Accelerate won in 2018 and Higher Power came in first in 2019.
Greek-American racehorse owners grew up watching thoroughbreds through the fences of local raceway
These are heady times for the Greek-American brothers, who grew up peeking through the fence at Santa Anita Raceway to watch the thoroughbreds. The Hronis brothers’ grandparents would take the boys, who lived outside Bakersfield, to the racetrack every so often.
Soon, though, the intoxicating sights and sounds of the track were leading the brothers to think seriously about entering the big-stakes world of thoroughbred racing, and as soon as they had their driver’s licenses they would set out for the oval.
After they took ownership of their family’s 9,000-acre grape and citrus-growing farm, they bought their own box there, using their free time to learn all they could about horse racing first hand.
Kostas and Pete bought their first horse in 2010; this past year, their perseverance and perspicacity brought them all the way to the hallowed grounds of the Kentucky Derby, with their horse called “Rock Your World.”
“If it happens, it happens organically”
Now 62, Kosta, who sits on the board of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, marvels at the journey he and his brother took from the vineyards of Bakersfield to the rarefied environs of thoroughbred racing.
The Hronis family traces its origins back to the city of Tripoli, Greece. The city, ,located in the Peloponnese, is the capital of Arcadia. The city played a major role in the Greek Revolution of 1821 and was liberated from the Ottomans in the summer of 1821.
The family farm has been a success since their father founded it in 1945, and their business sense runs in the family.
Speaking to the Del Mar Times, he stated “We’ve never even been close (to the Derby). The one thing you know about this, you can’t try to do it. You can’t buy your way into it.
“If it happens, it happens organically. If things fall into place for a 3-year-old who comes around at the right time, you enjoy the ride.
“It’s definitely a needle in the haystack kind of thing.”
None of this came as any surprise to the successful farmer, whose family has worked the land of the San Joaquin Valley soil since 1945.
Knowing all that they do about the vagaries of weather, climate and the business world has given the brothers a good deal of equanimity when it comes to the tough world of thoroughbred racing, which nearly always has a good deal of drama and heartbreak added to its mix.
Neither of the brothers takes anything for granted when it comes to something as dependent on luck as horse racing. Of all the 21,181 foals born in North America in 2018, only 20 were going to be fortunate and talented enough to make it onto the track at Churchill Downs in 2021.
But their lifetime of knowledge about horses and racing led them all the way to the Kentucky Derby this year and it looks like another stellar year is on tap, with the Breeder’s Cup coming up in a few months.
Kosta tells reporters “After (winning) the Pasadena Stakes, Belinda Stronach, who owns the racetrack at Santa Anita, said to me, ‘My dad’s going to be really jealous of you, because in all of his years he’s never had a horse in the Kentucky Derby.’
”So I think about Frank Stronach, what a great horseman he was, how many Eclipse Awards he won as an owner, and it really made me appreciate what had been accomplished.
“To hear Belinda say that to me was a real ‘wow’ moment.”
The Greek-American racehorse owners take it all as it comes, not allowing themselves to get caught up in the trappings of the thoroughbred racing world. Pete told reporters just before the Kentucky Derby, “At the end of the day we’re farmers, professional grape growers.
“No matter what happens on that Saturday, we’ll be selling grapes on Monday.”
Trainer John Sadler, who used to be an usher at Santa Anita Racetrack, approached the brothers after he heard they were interested in getting involved in the sport of kings.
Now, he is the man on the spot on auction day when big decisions are made on which horse to purchase.
“I’ve never been invited to an auction,” Hronis told reporters, laughing. “John makes me stay at work. ‘You stay and take care of the grapes and I’ll go look at the horses.’ When I first was with John in 2011, I said, ‘Hey, the 2-year-old sales, can I be part of that?’ He said, ‘No, you’re not ready yet. We’re going to just keep claiming horses. Just keep doing what you’re doing.’
The brothers are known for their down to earth nature and their good judgment in both the business world and the fraught world of thoroughbred breeding and racing.
“The exceptional thing about him, in this day and age of complex things, he’s from the Central Valley,” Sadler says about Kostas. “He’s very straight forward. He’s the real deal. When you get to know him, it’s hard not to like him. He doesn’t blow his own horn. He’s just a good guy.”
“We don’t hunt. We don’t fish. We don’t ski. We don’t golf,” Hronis explains. “This became our hobby.”
After winning the Santa Anita Derby, which guaranteed them a spot in the Kentucky Derby, Hronis and Sadler celebrated in their own inimitable, down-home way.
“We went to a Mexican restaurant in Pasadena,” Hronis says. “It was just enchiladas, tacos, burritos. That was about it. John needs to get home and get to bed because that alarm clock goes off at 3 every morning.”