With only a maiden win to his name and 1 1/16 miles to run, C R K Stable's Draft Pick proved he belongs in the big leagues with a powerful dash to the wire to win the $100,000 Affirmed Stakes (G3) June 10 at Santa Anita Park.
With Bob Baffert trainee and 1-5 favorite Solomini headlining the field of six 3-year-olds, handicappers all but discounted Draft Pick, a Candy Ride colt who, less than a month earlier, finally broke his maiden after five frustrating attempts.
But the chance for Solomini to make amends for his 10th-place run in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) never came. When the gates sprung open, he fell to the back of the pack as Afleet Ascent raced to the lead to set fractions of :24.60, :49.13, and 1:13.55 through six furlongs.
Forced to fend off an early challenge by Axelrod at the half-mile mark, Afleet Ascent tired and began to drift. Draft Pick continued to stalk the pace, running three deep as they rounded the second turn before moving up on the outside in midstretch under left-handed urging from jockey Joseph Talamo. With a massive kick heading into the final furlong, Draft Pick drove clear from the field to win by 2 1/2 lengths in a final time of 1:44.34.
"He was really striding out at the last point," Talamo said. "At the last sixteenth, I eased up on him, but it was pretty tremendous."
Axelrod took second, followed by Solomini, who had swung four wide at the top of the lane but was unable to gain any extra ground. Afleet Ascent, King Cause, and Run Away rounded out the order of finish.
Sent off at odds of 4-1, Draft Pick returned $10.20, $5.40, and $2.40. Axelrod paid $16.60 and $3.60, and Solomini returned $2.10.
"He really took his time with him," owner Lee Searing said of winning trainer Peter Eurton. "All of his races have been good races, but the thing we figured out ... he's a fighter. He wants to take you on, and that's what he did again today."
Bred in Kentucky by Hinkle Farms, Draft Pick was a $450,000 purchase by Mayberry Farm at the Keeneland September yearling sale. Draft Pick is the first foal from the stakes-placed Arch mare Firehouse Red. He improved to 2-0-2 from seven starts and increased his earnings to $112,080.