In spite of blistering fractions, Saint Afleet stuck around to win the $250,000 Sunshine Millions NATC Dash for 3-year-old sprinters by a head in a four-horse blanket finish at drizzly Santa Anita Saturday.
Ridden by Kent Desormeaux for trainer Craig Dollase and owner/breeder Ronald C. Waranch, the Florida-bred Saint Afleet inched clear of gritty pacesetter Don'tsellmeshort and closer Cheiron in deep stretch while between horses, then held off a determined Cheiron and Ice Wynnd Fire in the closing strides.
Cheiron, who closed powerfully on the extreme outside for jockey Victor Espinoza, was a nose in front of 4-5 favorite Icewynnd Fire, with Don'tsellmeshort a half-length behind in fourth. The final time was 1:08 3/5.
"I wanted to be aggressive away from the gate to get a jump on the favorite because I thought he was the horse to beat," Desormeaux said. "I kept an eye on him throughout the race and got the run on him when it counted the most."
Don'tsellmeshort and Dad's Lessons set the early fractions of :21 1/5 and :44, with Saint Afleet in close attendance. On the turn, Cheiron edged up on the outside and gained a short lead before Saint Afleet battled back. Ice Wynnd Fire, with Jerry Bailey riding, lacked room while off heels in mid-stretch and cut to the rail for the run to the wire, but just missed.
"It was kind of a screwed up race," Bailey said. "I couldn't get him to give me a solid eighth of a mile anywhere. He was up, he was back he was out. When I needed him he just wasn't there."
Saint Afleet, a bay colt by Northern Afleet-Saintly Silk (by Saint Ballado) was cutting back from the 1 1/16-mile Hollywood Futurity (gr. I), where he was sixth last month. He won his first stakes race and for the third time in five starts overall. He earned $137,500 for the victory, bringing his career bankrool to $191,220.
"They ran fast," said Dollase. "He was excellent, actually, and he's game. He won't let anybody go by him, that's for sure. It was a great win."
Saint Afleet paid $8.60, $5.40 and $2.80. Cheiron returned $11.60 and $3.60. Ice Wynnd Fire's show was $2.60. The $2 exacta was worth $69.60.
Badgett's Mandate was fifth, followed by Baronage, Race for Glory, Pioneerman, Score High and Dad's Lessons.