01/23/2005 12:00AM

Saint Afleet best in Palos Verdes

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BENOIT PHOTO
Saint Afleet and jockey Patrick Valenzuela, inside, win the Grade II, $150,000 Palos Verdes Handicap on Sunday at Santa Anita.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Jockey Patrick Valenzuela scored his first stakes victory of his latest comeback by guiding Saint Afleet to victory in the Grade 2, $150,000 on Sunday at Hollywood Park.

The victory was appropriate for Valenzuela in that it came for owner Ron Waranch, who has been one of Valenzuela's biggest supporters during his many trials and tribulations. Waranch is also the owner of the 4-year-old Northern Afleet colt, who is now trained by Jeff Mullins after beginning his career with Craig Dollase.

For Valenzuela, it was his first stakes victory since May 31, when he captured the Shoemaker Mile at Hollywood Park with Designed for Luck. His last stakes win during Santa Anita's winter meeting came April 5, 2003, on Western Pride in the San Bernardino Handicap.

Saint Afleet ($17.20) was in the thick of the battle from the start. He was just a half-length behind pacesetter Stone Rain through a wicked opening quarter-mile in 21.23 seconds, and was still closest to Stone Rain after a half-mile in 44 seconds.

Saint Afleet inched closer to Stone Rain turning into the stretch, and they were joined by Hombre Rapido, who loomed up on the outside. Stone Rain was the first to yield. Saint Afleet and Hombre Rapido raced together to just prior to the sixteenth pole, and then Saint Afleet gained the advantage and went on to prevail by three-quarters of a length.

Hombre Rapido finished 2 1/2 lengths in front of third-place Bluesthestandard. Stone Rain faded to sixth. McCann's Mojave, the 8-5 favorite, threw in his second straight disappointing effort and finished last in the field of eight.

Saint Afleet was timed in 1:09.15 for six furlongs on the fast main track. The victory was his fifth in nine lifetime starts. He won last year's Sunshine Millions Dash for 3-year-olds at Santa Anita. Saint Afleet has won twice in three starts for Mullins. His lone setback came on an off track at Golden Gate Fields in the Oakland Handicap on Dec. 11.