Congratulations in order to Grade 2 Kelso winner and new millionaire Pat On the Back

Saturday, September 21st, 2019

NYRA/Susie Raisher

By Sarah Mace

Harold Lerner, AWC Stables, and Nehoc Stables’ Belmont-loving Pat On the Back earned the first graded victory of his career on Saturday when he rallied to win Belmont’s Grade 2, $300,000 Kelso Handicap. The extra icing on the Kelso cake for his connections was that the $165,000 winner’s share of the purse pushed Pat On the Back’s earnings over $1 million.

In 25 prior starts, Pat On the Back had already compiled a top-notch resume, and came into the Kelso looking for his eighth stakes victory. A 5-year-old horse by Congrats, Pat On the Back was precocious, winning the Aspirant and Sleepy Hollow at two for trainer Ken McPeek. He picked up the Ontario County Stakes the following year. In 2018 and 2019, the chestnut really came into his own in the barn of Jeremiah Englehart, taking down four major New York-bred stakes: the Saginaw and Empire Classic last year and Affirmed Success and Commentator in 2019.

Unplaced in a pair of Grade 3 tries at two and three and a solid fifth in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile last year, Pat On the Back has largely stuck to the state-bred ranks, but that has not shielded him from graded-caliber competition.

He gave multiple Grade 1 winner Diversify almost everything he could handle in the 2018 Commentator, finishing second by just a nose, and downed multiple graded stakes winner Giant Expectations and the talented Mr. Buff in the same race this year. All that was lacking was that graded win. He took care of that on Saturday.

Very keen out of the gate, Pat On the Back (7-2 third choice) nevertheless allowed regular rider Dylan Davis to wrangle him back to draft in behind a three-ply pace duel that percolated up front. Monongahela led inside (9-1) pressed hard by both True Timber (6-1) and favorite Prince Lucky (6-5) through opening splits of 22.96 and 45.73.

NYRA/Chelsea Durand

Tracking the front three along the backstretch and through the far turn, Pat On the Back edged toward outside for running room in the approach to the quarter pole, angled out four wide and got set down for the drive.

After passing True Timber, Pat On the Back set about grinding down new leader Prince Lucky until he grudgingly gave up the advantage midstretch. Pat On the Back then edged away to win by one-half length in an impressive final time of 1:33.97.

Pat On the Back’s Kelso victory improved his already-impressive Belmont record to six wins in 11 starts with three seconds and one third. The purse also propelled his earnings to $1,101,032.

Englehart credited his jockey for settling Pat On the Back sufficiently so he could run his race. “He really is a fighter and Dylan did a fantastic job of getting him off the pace,” the conditioner said. “We didn’t want to be on the lead today and Dylan really did a masterful job of being able to get him back behind horses without fighting him too much. That was amazing.”

Davis also addressed mount’s keenness. “Today, I just tried to get him to relax. He broke sharp again today and I got a good hold of him and he settled behind the leaders. I put myself behind Johnny [Velazquez, aboard Prince Lucky]. He was the horse to beat. Once they kicked on, he opened up for me outside of [Prince Lucky] and he finished well.

Continued Davis, “This is the best horse I’ve had in my career. I’ve been with him from when he was a 2-year-old, watching him grow. It was a little emotional galloping out. We’re a team and we were pushing up the stages and both working a rank up.”

Co-owner Harold Lerner said, “He’s gotten better with age. Obviously, he loves Belmont. He’s a one-turn horse and a mile is perfect for him. We got some pace up front which set him up real well. Dylan knew exactly what he had to do. He had to sit off the pace and when he asked ‘Pat’ to go, ‘Pat’ went. We’ve seen this before from this horse. He just seems to get the job done. He’s a real working class racehorse. It was a good horse race and we couldn’t be happier.”

Continued Lerner, “He knows what to do in a brawl, he’s a back alley fighter and he comes prepared to give his best. Jeremiah had him cranked up real well. I’ve been in this game a while and I love to see what I just saw – a horse that tries super, super hard. I tip my hat to the horse that ran second [Prince Lucky], he’s a real nice horse. Today, we got the job done. Everything all around worked out great.”

Lerner now finds himself in the enviable position of weighing the options of sending Pat On the Back to the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Santa Anita or contesting the Empire Classic at home.

“I’m going to think about it this week. I’ll have to speak with Jeremiah. We’ve never shipped this horse 3,000 miles. The Empire Classic was on our calendar towards the end of the meet and it’ll be here at Belmont, so that’s a big plus for us. I think we’ll talk about it. How far we get in the conversation I’m not sure, but it’ll be an interesting conversation to have.”

Bred by Sugar Maple Farm where he was foaled, Pat On the Back is the last 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.

Pat On the Back was purchased by Ken McPeek for $70,000 at the 2015 Fasig-Tipton New York-bred preferred yearling sale. After 17 starts, he moved his tack to the Englehart barn where he has thrived.

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