In the $100,001 Willard L. Proctor Memorial, the initial stakes event of the Spring/Summer meet for 2-year-olds, Kobe’s Back
, a first-time starter named in honor of Los Angeles Lakers’ superstar Kobe Bryant, overcame a horrible start to win going away.
The 9-5 favorite, Kobe’s Back spotted his eight opponents several lengths at the start, was still last after three-eighths of a mile, but finished strongly, ultimately collaring 8-1 shot Willie B Awesome inside the final sixteenth of a mile to win clear under jockey Rafael Bejarano.
A $480,000 purchase in March at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company Selected Sale of 2-Year-Olds in Training, Kobe’s Back covered the 5 ½ furlongs over Cushion Track in 1:05.42. The victory was worth $60,000 to Lee and Susan Searing’s C R K Stable. Trained by Sadler, Kobe’s Back paid $5.60, $4 and $3 while winning by 3 ¼ lengths.
“It was unbelievable,’’ said Bejarano after his first Proctor win. “This horse is something else. He was standing good in the gate, but kind of jumped when it opened. I worked him twice from the gate and he had never done that before.
“The last time he broke so fast I thought I was going to be two lengths in front today on an easy lead. The way he ran today, I think he can come from behind, too.’’
Lee Searing thought the gray son of Flatter and the Well Decorated mare Well would be an appropriate horse to name after Bryant.
“We’re Laker fans and I actually think Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest athletes ever,’’ said Searing. “I’ve been going for 17 years watching him play. We have all these 2-year-olds, so after Kobe got hurt, I said I know he’s coming back, so we came up with Kobe’s Back. I don’t know Kobe, but the bottom line is I’ve admired him every day he’s played basketball.’’
A full brother to multiple stakes winner Willa B Awesome, Willie B Awesome slipped through an opening along the rail to assume a 2 ½ length lead with an eighth of a mile remaining, but was no match for the winner late in his third race for trainer Walther Solis.
One month removed from an easy maiden victory versus fellow California breds, Sprouts
stepped into stakes company Saturday and was dominant again in the $100,250 Cinderella.
A daughter of Square Eddie and the Yankee Victor mare Ann Summers Gold, Sprouts ran away from her five rivals in a race restricted to 2-year-old fillies.
Content to track from the outside while Pleasant Miss and favored On the Backstreets dueled for the lead, Sprouts swung three deep to engage that pair nearing the stretch, then powered away to win by 3 ½ lengths under jockey Mario Gutierrez.
Owned by breeder J. Paul Reddam’s Reddam Racing LLC and trained by Edward Freeman, Sprouts completed the 5 ½ furlongs over Cushion Track in 1:054.45. She paid $8, $4.20 and $3.20 as the 3-1 third choice.
Making her first start with Lasix after winning by 5 ¼ lengths at 11-1 May 16, Sprouts pushed her earnings to $92,240. She was fifth of nine in her career debut April 26 at Betfair Hollywood Park.
“She’s improved so much,’’ said Freeman. “I think it’s just experience and maturity. The first race she definitely learned a lot and grew up.
“The second time (Gutierrez) was super confident. Then she came back and worked beautifully for this race. I was pretty confident going in. I thought she might get a speed duel in front of her and she did.’’
In her initial start after being privately purchased by a partnership that includes Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, Pleasant Miss, the 5-2 second choice, held second by one length over Time for Angie. The runner-up returned $4.40 and $3 while the show price on Time for Angie was $3.80.
On the Backstreets, the even-money favorite, weakened to fourth, 9 ¼ lengths behind Time for Angie. La Madera and Pay the Debt completed the order of finish. Sensational Nikki scratched.