Saint Afleet won the first graded stakes race of his light career, holding off Hombre Rapido in the final yards for a three-quarters of a length victory Sunday in the $150,000 Palos Verdes Handicap (gr. II) at Santa Anita Park.
Ridden by Patrick Valenzuela at 117 pounds, Saint Afleet ran six furlongs in 1:09.15 and paid $17.20, $8.40 and $5 as the 7-1 fifth choice in a field of eight. Jeff Mullins is the trainer for Ronald Waranch of Palm Desert, Calif.
A 4-year-old Florida-bred by Northern Afleet -Saintly Silk (by Saint Ballado), Saint Afleet's only previous stakes win came in the Sunshine Millions Dash at Santa Anita one year ago.
Between horses entering the stretch while challenging the pacesetting Stone Rain, Saint Afleet overtook the leader at the eighth pole and outfought Hombre Rapido and Victor Espinoza to the wire while getting strong urging from Valenzuela. "It was a tough race today," said Valenzuela, whose last stakes victory came on May 31 with Designed For Luck in the Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) at Hollywood Park. "There were some tough, old veterans in there. My horse ran a hard race, and we just got lucky and prevailed today."Saint Afleet has five wins from nine starts. The $90,000 winner's share bumped his earnings to $317,571. The bay colt was off for eight months last year before returning in November for Mullins. Craig Dollase trained him previously.McCann's Mojave, the 8-5 betting favorite, settled into fourth place on the backstretch with David Flores aboard, but dropped back with a quarter-mile to go and struggled home last.Hombre Rapido was second by 2 1/2 lengths and returned $6.80 and $4.80. Bluesthestandard, the defending Palos Verdes winner ridden Sunday by Martin Pedroza, produced a $6.40 show payoff. Bluesthestandard has lost seven straight races since that victory.
Taste of Paradise closed ground from last to finish fourth, and was followed by Perfect Moon, Stone Rain, Woke Up Dreamin and McCann's Mojave.
Stone Rain led through sizzling fractions of :21 1/5, :44 and :56 under Tyler Baze, with Saint Afleet racing in second place early. Hombre Rapido advanced outside of those two at the head of the stretch with Saint Afleet in the middle and Stone Rain positioned inside. Bluesthestandard came out in upper stretch and menaced briefly but could not match the first two.Mullins has had Saint Afleet for three races. He said the colt's lackluster fourth in last month's Oakland Handicap at Golden Gate Fields is not indicative of his talent. "He hit an off-track up north," Mullins said. "He's a better horse than that, and he was training good for this race."
Mullins said Saint Afleet could be pointed to the $150,000 San Carlos Handicap (gr. II) at seven furlongs on Feb. 26.
There were no tickets with six correct in the Pick Six, and the one-day carryover to Wednesday is $143,319. (Chart, Equibase)