Louisville, Kentucky: Even if he isn’t recognised as this year’s top thoroughbred, Accelerate all but assured his place as North America’s best older horse.

His signature win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic should solidify his credentials for multiple honours.

Accelerate took the lead at the top of the stretch and held off Gunnevera to win the $6 million Classic by a length on Saturday, strengthening his bid for Horse of the Year over Triple Crown winner Justify.

The race lacked the retired 3-year-old star and left a wide-open field, which the 5-year-old chestnut horse eventually overtook after breaking from the No. 14 post as the favourite. Accelerate made a sweeping move in the far turn and was in charge at the top of the stretch, then held off Gunnevera for his fifth consecutive Grade 1 victory and sixth of seven overall this year.

That gave trainer John Sadler his first Breeders’ Cup win since his initial starter 30 years ago.

As for the California-based Accelerate being named this year’s top thoroughbred, Sadler said he’d leave that up to media who vote on the Eclipse Awards. He noted his own bias, though.

“To me, he’s the Horse of the Year, no doubt,” Sadler said. “He’s won all those great races. To win the Santa Anita Handicap (in March) was for me probably one or two on my bucket list.

“The Classic is a newer race but a great race, and he won that so smashingly. He’s just a great horse and had a great year.”

Ridden by Joel Rosario, Accelerate covered 1 1/4 miles in 2:02.93 and paid $7.40, $6 and $4.40.

“He broke really well,” Rosario said of Accelerate. “I was on the outside and had to use him a little bit. I just wanted to get a position because I was way out there. I know I had a long run to the turn but I wanted to be not too wide.

“When I got to the backside I tried to be in the clear, which is what he likes to do.”

The Classic triumph capped a successful Breeders’ Cup for the jockey, who also rode Game Winner and Jaywalk to victories on Friday in the Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies Turf, respectively.

Off the board were Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s duo of West Coast and McKinzie. They finished seventh and 12th, respectively, after projections of challenging Accelerate in the marquee event of nine season-ending championship races.

“They looked good for a mile,” Baffert said. “They just tired and just didn’t have it today.”

Gunnevera, Thunder Snow and early pace setter Mendelssohn made things interesting before 70,423, an upside to the absence of horse racing’s 13th Triple Crown winner from the Classic. Justify’s ankle issue led Baffert to retire the colt in July, eliminating the opportunity to follow 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in pursuit of a rare grand slam.