06/15/2013 8:20PM

Hollywood Park: Kobe's Back overcomes poor start to win Proctor Memorial

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Kobe's Back
Kobe's Back, ridden by Rafael Bejarano, won the Willard Proctor Memorial in his first start Saturday.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – The first-time starter Kobe’s Back had such a lofty reputation among the 2-year-olds trained at Betfair Hollywood Park that he was the 9-5 favorite in Saturday’s $101,000 Willard Proctor Memorial Stakes.

The hype was justified.

Despite spotting his rivals about four lengths after a poor start, Kobe’s Back rallied past eight rivals in the stretch to win the Proctor by a convincing 3 1/4 lengths. Kobe’s Back ($5.60) ran 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:05.42.

While the start concerned winning jockey Rafael Bejarano, the rally that Kobe’s Back displayed was not a surprise to the leading rider.

“He’s been working so good,” Bejarano said. “I knew I was on a class horse. I took a hold and made one run. The way he was closing, I knew I had a lot of horse.”

Bejarano said he thought he could win the race with a half-mile remaining. At that stage, Kobe’s Back was last of nine, trailing the pacesetting Time for a Hug by seven lengths while racing wide. With a furlong remaining, Willie B Awesome led by 2 1/2 lengths, with Kobe’s Back still seventh, trailing by four lengths. He took the lead in the final sixteenth.

The rough start did not overly concern winning trainer John Sadler, who has watched Kobe’s Back work quickly at times through the spring.

“I wasn’t that nervous,” Sadler said. “He’ll run on. It’s pretty exciting.”

Sadler considered scratching Kobe’s Back as recently as Thursday in favor of a maiden race later this month but opted to stay in the stakes.

Willie B Awesome, an 8-1 chance, finished second, a neck in front of 13-1 Solid Wager. One More finished fourth, followed by California Chrome, Time for a Hug, Go First, Street Icon, and Geldautomat.

Kobe’s Back is owned by Lee and Susan Searing’s CRK Stable. A colt by Flatter, Kobe’s Back was purchased for $480,000 at the March sale of selected 2-year-olds in training at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co.

The victory was worth $60,000.