Nonios, making his stakes debut for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, overcame some early trouble to post a 15-1 upset by a half-length over Liaison in the $100,000 Affirmed Handicap (gr. III) at Betfair Hollywood Park June 3 (VIDEO).
Ridden by Martin Pedroza, Nonios defeated the even-money favorite in a Cushion Track time of 1:42.99 for 1 1/16 miles.
Liaison, one of two in the field of six 3-year-olds trained by Bob Baffert, made his first appearance since finishing sixth in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum1 Brands (gr. I) May 5.
Nonios was making his first start away from Golden Gate Fields, where he had won two of three since his debut victory against maidens in February on the Tapeta racing surface. He was coming off a third-place finish against older horses in a one-mile allowance/optional claiming event Apil 7.
“I thought this horse could run for a long time," Hollendorfer said. "He should be undefeated. He was very unlucky to lose at Golden Gate when he ran against older horses. Luckily the owner kept confidence in me with this horse and let me run him here. I always get worried when we’re on the rail and it looked like there wouldn’t be anywhere to go. We got lucky and got a seam and ran through it.
"We have a long year left with this horse," he added. "All of the Triple Crown races are gone, but there are other very important races around the country and also here in California. To me, distance seems to be no problem. I made my mind up to run Rousing Sermon in the Swaps (gr. II), but for this guy, I haven’t made a choice yet.”
The $150,000 Swaps Stakes at nine furlongs is July 4.
Trained by Hollendorfer for owner Green B. Smith Jr., Nonios (by Pleasantly Perfect) had been training well at Hollywood for his return. He posted a seven-furlong drill in 1:24 2/5 May 28.
The early part of the Affirmed was troublesome for Nonios, who bobbled at the break and was steadied off heels heading into the clubhouse turn. Gun Boat, Baffert's second entrant, went to the front and angled to the inside to dictate the pace.
Gun Boat, benefiting from the scratch of the other speed horse in the field, American Act, was able to slow the pace on the first turn. Unusual Heatwave stalked the pacesetter to the outside with Nonios at the rail and Liaison on his outside right behind them. Gun Boat maintained his advantage of about one length over Unusual Heatwave while carving pedestrian splits of :24.01, :47.58, and 1:12.01, but gave way readily leaving the far turn as Unusual Heatwave went on the attack.
Unusual Heatwave held the lead in the stretch with Liaison under some encouragement from Rafael Bejarano to keep the pressure on. Nonios, enjoying a ground-saving trip, angled out a bit to split the Baffert duo near mid-stretch, then set his sights on Unusual Heatwave.
Pedroza guided Nonios to the inside of Unusual Heatwave to gain the lead past the furlong mark. Nonios inched away in deep stretch to hold Liaison safe in the drive for the wire under left-handed urging.
"When this horse sees a hole he just goes for it," said Pedroza, who rode Nonios for the first time but had watched his earlier races with Russell Baze aboard. "Very smart horse. Jerry told me to ride this horse with confidence. He said this horse can run.
"I wish I could have been outside because I had so much horse. It was just a matter of whether or not I could get through. He wanted to go so bad on the turn but at that point I had nowhere to go. I wouldn’t have let him go at that point anyway. In the stretch, a hole opened up and he just attacked it.”
Liaison finished a game second by 1 1/4 lengths over Holy Candy, who rallied belatedly for Joel Rosario in his first start since finishing fourth in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) April 14 at Keeneland.
Hermitage Farm bred Nonios in Kentucky. Out of the Touch Gold mare Stylish Manner, the dark bay or brown colt was a $73,000 Ocala Breeders' Sale Co. purchase as a 2-year-old in April 2011.
Nonios now has three wins in four starts with one third and earnings of $99,000.
He carried 116 pounds, six fewer than the top-weighted runner-up, and paid $33.80, $10, and $4.60. Liaison, making his first start at Hollywood since capturing the CashCall Futurity (gr. I) in December, returned $3 and $2.40 while rounding out a generous $91.20 exacta. Holy Candy paid $2.60 to show.
Unusual Heatwave, winner of the Snow Chief Stakes over state-breds April 28 at Hollywood, faded to fourth, 1 1/4 lengths behind Holy Candy. He was followed by Blingo and Gun Boat.