Pat On the Back narrowly prevails over Giant Expectations in dramatic Commentator finish

Monday, May 27th, 2019

NYRA/Susie Raisher

By Sarah Mace

The finish of the $200,000 Commentator Stakes that wrapped up the stakes portion of the Big Apple Showcase Memorial Day card at Belmont could not have been more dramatic.

Harold Lerner, AWC Stables and Nehoc Stables’ Pat On the Back (Congrats) was returning to set matters straight after falling just a nose short in the Commentator last year to eventual New York-bred Horse of the Year and Whitney winner Diversify. West Coast raider and multiple graded stakes winner Giant Expectations swooped onto the scene to spoil Pat On the Back’s chances. The pair ended up noses apart on the wire, with the narrow decision falling to Pat On the Back.

Giant Expectations, favored at 9-5 odds over Pat On the Back at 2-1, seemed to smooth his rival’s path to victory from the get-go when he stumbled badly after the break and had to regroup near the tail of the field. Up front the accomplished Mr. Buff, who was let go at 13-1 in this formidable field of seven, led the way through opening splits of 22.80 and 45.54. Pat On the Back traveled three-wide in fourth.

In the approach to the far turn, Pat On the Back advanced into contention, gaining third position. Several lengths back, Jose Ortiz aboard Giant Expectations had expertly regathered his mount after the initial stumble and was on the move, making up ground on the outside.

By the quarter pole Mr. Buff still had the lead at the fence, but the pair of challengers loomed menacingly to his outside in upper stretch.

With a furlong to go and three very game horses lined up across the track, it looked like it could be anybody’s race. Mr. Buff hung tough at the rail, Pat On the Back refused to give ground between horses, and Giant Expectations, equipped with blinkers for this outing, was completely focused on the task at hand.

NYRA/Chelsea Durand

In the final jumps it came down to Pat On the Back and Giant Expectations. Both horses ran too well to lose, but Pat On the Back just prevailed with a nose in front in a strong final time of 1:33.43.

Mr. Buff was a game third three-quarters of a length back, followed across the line by Syndergaard. Completing the order of finish were Honor Up, Control Group and Haul Anchor. [VIDEO]

Winning rider and Pat On the Back’s regular jockey Dylan Davis said of the close finish, “I really did think he had it, but being so close I was just hoping for the best. We were matching strides head and head and I did have a couple of inches on him. You just never know riding hard all the way through the wire.”

Davis continued, “He was in battle mode today. I felt like he was going to let up a little bit at the sixteenth pole. What he did today I’ve never seen him do. It felt like he was going to pull up and let [Giant Expectations] go by at the sixteenth pole, but he put his head down, put his ears back and gave a little extra of what we needed. It was like he knew where the wire was, and he just got it done. I think this was one of his career-best runs today.”

“This was a tough race, said trainer Jeremiah Englehart. “Giant Expectations stumbling at the start didn’t help his chances and he ran his eyeballs out. When they linked up at the sixteenth pole, I knew our horse would dig in. It was just a great race out of him. This horse is just so special. He’s all heart, all guts. Every time you ask him to go to bat, he’s swinging.”

Jose Ortiz, who had the call on Giant Expectations, said, “He stumbled badly at the break. We got lucky he stood up and put himself back in the race very quickly and put us in a position to win. He grabbed his quarter and to run a mile like that, as fast as he did, is very impressive. I just feel bad for the connections because if we had a clean break, I think we would have won.”

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 Commentator is Pat On the Back’s seventh stakes victory and boosts his career record to eight wins, four seconds and four thirds from 24 starts. His earnings, which are fast approaching the $1 million threshold stand at $924,032.

Pat On the Back was purchased by Ken McPeek, his trainer for 17 starts, for $70,000 at the 2015 Fasig-Tipton New York-bred preferred yearling sale. In seven outings for Englehart Pat On the Back has finished in the exacta six times with wins in the Saginaw Stakes, Empire Classic and Affirmed Success. Last December he took a shot in the Grade 1 Cigar mile and finished a solid fifth only 3 3/4 lengths behind winner Patternrecognition.

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