Making his graded stakes debut in the $100,000 Affirmed Handicap (gr. III) (VIDEO), favored Grazen was never headed while posting a 2 3/4-length win over five 3-year-old rivals at Hollywood Park June 20.
Nick Alexander's California-homebred son of Benchmark was gunned to the lead by Rafael Bejarano in the 1 1/16-mile Affirmed. With one opponent, Fiddlers Afleet, pressuring him, Grazen led all the way around, shaking loose leaving the final turn and turning back a stretch bid from Misremembered to win easily. The winning time was an impressive 1:41.40 on Hollywood's Cushion Track.
Trained by MIke Mitchell, who won three races on the day, Grazen is three-for-three on the Hollywood main track. The gray/roan colt was coming off a front-running win over older horses in a Hollywood allowance race at the Affirmed distance May 23. Grazen was able to set a soft pace that day and simply had too much left to be challenged.
The fractions were quicker in the Affirmed -- :24.06, :46.97 and 1:10.57 -- but the result was the same.
"(Grazen) just loves being on the lead," said Bejarano, who also had three victories on the day. "When he's on the lead, it doesn't matter how fast he's going. We went a real fast second quarter but I always felt he was going real easy. I still had a lot of horse at the end. I whipped him a couple of times when we came to the stretch and after that I just let him gallop out. He's got a chance to be one of the real good ones."
Misremembered settled for second after being put to the drive on the final turn by Victor Espinoza. The Bob Baffert colt got within shouting distance approaching mid-stretch but Bejarano delivered a couple of right-hand taps to Grazen, who spurted away in the final furlong under a long hold. Quindici Man rallied from last in the small field to get third under Joel Rosario, finishing five lengths behind the winner.
The victory was the first in a stakes for Alexander, a Southern California car dealer who has raced in the claiming ranks for 28 years. His advertising slogan is "Nick can't say no."
"We claimed the mare (Hazen); she did well for us and we bred her," Alexander told TVG. "We've won a lot of claiming races, but this one is special."
Grazen ran once as a 2-year-old, finishing 10th in a special weight race at Oak Tree in September, and was done for the year. He returned seven months later to win the Ntra Stakes a 6 1/2 furlongs on Gold Rush Day at Hollywood April 25. His career mark stands at three win four starts with earnings of $135,400 after collecting $60,000 for the Affirmed victory.
“They didn’t give him any break this time, they went after him," Mitchell noted. "I felt like he was running free and out there by himself.
"He’s a good horse and he’s learning what all this is all about. What was really neat was (his) first mile race was just kind of a workout. He breezed so well that he just came out of it good. It wasn’t a race he was going to bounce from or anything so it was just a perfect race to get under his belt. Going into this race I had a lot of horse to work with.”
The 8-5 choice carried 114 pounds and paid $5.20, $2.60 and $2.40. Misremembered had his two-race win streak ended and returned $3.40 and $2.60 while rounding out a $15.60 exacta. Quindici Man was $3.20 to show. Scorewithcater, Fiddlers Afleet and Cape Truth trailed.