In the $100,001 Willard L. Proctor Memoril, Kobe’s Back, a first-time starter named in honor of Los Angeles Lakers’ superstar Kobe Bryant, overcame a slow 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 out of the Niall Brennan consignment, 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.