Pat On the Back glides up the fence to win sloppy Affirmed Success

Friday, April 26th, 2019

NYRA/Joe Labozzetta

By Sarah Mace

Harold Lerner LLC, AWC Stables and Nehoc Stables’ Pat On the Back (Congrats) came off the bench guns blazing Friday after a nearly five-month winter break. Making the first start of his 5-year-old campaign, the son of Congrats won the $100,000 Affirmed Success, a 6-furlong sprint for older New York-breds and the featured race on Belmont Park’s sloppy Opening Day card.

Chasing the pace early, Pat On the Back angled inside in the final stages to get up for the victory, turning the tables on last year’s winner Eye Luv Lulu, to whom he finished second by three-quarters of a length in 2018.

Talent and achievement ran deep in this year’s renewal of the Affirmed Success, even after the original field of eight was whittled down to a six-pack after the defection of Tribecca and Runaway Lute.

Remaining were the top three finishers of Hollie Hughes Stakes on February 18 – Bavaro, Celtic Chaos and Eye Luv Lulu – along with the talented Syndergaard, who has been steadily rounding into the form that earned him the title of 2-year-old New York-bred champion in 2016. The field also featured two past winners of the Affirmed Success: Eye Luv Lulu, now eight, who defeated Pat On the Back last year, and 6-year-old Celtic Chaos who won with his patented closing kick in 2017.

Partnered with regular rider Dylan Davis, Pat On the Back was the second betting choice at 3-1, drifting up from a 2-1 morning line. Bettors may have some reservations about his layoff, or the fact that Pat On the Back has done his best work going longer, or even that several of his rivals historically stepped up their games over off-going, whereas Pat On the Back had only score one win in five tries over the wet stuff. The post time favorite was Syndergaard, who owned two wins and a second from three starts over off going.

Pat On the Back found himself further from the front than usual in the early stages of the Affirmed Success – seven lengths after the half – following a bump at the break. The action up front, however, would ultimately work to his favor. Longshot Sudden Surprise set wicked early fractions of 21.88 and 44.92, pressed along by the speedy Eye Luv Lulu and Bavaro. Syndergaard raced evenly in fourth, Pat On the Back chased in fifth and closer Celtic Chaos brought up the rear.

NYRA/Coglianese Photos

Coming under urging midway around the far turn, Pat On the Back closed ground on the group in upper stretch well off the rail, then agilely angled inside for the final furlong. Gaining momentum at the fence, he widened his stride and passed rivals.

Striking the front with seventy yards to go, he edged away to a 1 1/4-length victory in a final time of 1:10.75. Eye Luv Lulu stayed well to preserve second, while a length further back Syndergaard finished a neck a head of Sudden Surprise in third. Completing the order of finish were Bavaro and Celtic Chaos. [VIDEO]

Dylan Davis confirmed in passing that the Affirmed Success was meant, in part, to prepare Pat On the Back for bigger and better (and longer) things later in the season.

“This distance wasn’t really his best suit,” Davis said, “but I just didn’t want to get too far away from the pack. I knew the pace was going to be pretty quick today. I broke slow and then I got squeezed out of there and from then on, I had to really ride him.”

Davis also noted that his move inside was dictated more by circumstance than design. “I didn’t want to lose too much ground from the pack, but from that position I had to stay on him most of the race. There was a point where the rail was okay. It wasn’t my first choice. I wanted to come off of it, but that was my only option to not stop his momentum. He ran a great race. I was excited for today. He worked well for me last week and I’m hoping for big things to continue on in his career [this year].”

At two and three, Pat On the Back won Finger Lakes’ Aspirant Stakes and Ontario County Stakes, respectively, for trainer Ken McPeek and chalked up additional stakes placings, but it wasn’t until last year at four that Pat On the Back really came into his own.

Following his runner-up finish to Eye Luv Lulu in the Affirmed Success, Pat On the Back relocated to Jeremiah Englehart’s barn and in five subsequent starts collected two wins and two seconds. He just missed beating Grade 1 winner Diversify by a nose in the Commentator, won the Saginaw Stakes and finished second by a neck in the Evan Shipman at Saratoga before going on the win the Empire Classic on Empire Showcase Day. His final start of the year came in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile on December 2 at Aqueduct where he finished fifth, beaten 3 3/4 lengths by Patternrecognition after attending a punishingly fast early pace.

Bred by Sugar Maple Farm where he was foaled, Pat On the Back is the last reported foal out of an unplaced Kentucky-bred Awesome Again mare named Accomplished. Purchased by Dan Haydon at the 2004 Keeneland November sale for $40,000, Accomplished produced eight winners from eight foals to start. Her other foal to earn black type, Sarah Accomplished by Performing Magic, won the 2008 Fifth Avenue division of the New York Stallion Stakes series.

The Affirmed Success is Pat On the Back’s sixth stakes victory and improves his career record to seven wins, four seconds and four thirds from 23 starts, with earnings of $814,032. He was purchased by Ken McPeek for $70,000 at the 2015 Fasig-Tipton New York-bred preferred yearling sale.

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