07/24/2005 11:00PM

Choctaw Nation repeats in San Diego Handicap

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Choctaw Nation successfully defended his title in the $250,000 , rallying from last in a field of six to score his first stakes win of the year.

Sent off as the favorite, Choctaw Nation ($5.40) finished 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.40. He made a sustained half-mile rally to win by a length over 6-1 Ace Blue. Preachinatthebar, another 6-1 shot, finished third.

The victory was even more impressive considering that Choctaw Nation made up nearly eight lengths in the final five furlongs despite a slow pace of 23.90 and 47.81 seconds set by Bear in the Woods.

Ridden by Victor Espinoza, Choctaw Nation reached contention with a four-wide rally in the stretch. He was two lengths behind leader Bear in the Woods at the eighth pole but had the best stride late.

Bear in the Woods faded to finish fourth, followed by Keep on Punching and Harvard Avenue.

The race developed as owner Bob Bone and trainer Jeff Mullins predicted, with the exception of a slow pace.

"I thought there would be a little more pace," Bone said. "That did concern me early, but it doesn't matter. He still puts in the same run."

A gelding, Choctaw Nation, 5, has won 6 of 10 starts and $1,065,800. Choctaw Nation was third in the $6 million Dubai World Cup in March, but only fifth in the Grade 2 Californian Stakes at Hollywood Park in June over a surface that Mullins insists he does not like.