Updated on 09/17/2011 3:11PM

Undefeated Choctaw Nation better than 'Perfect'

Choctaw Nation (left) collars Pleasantly Perfect 70 yards from the wire on his way to a three-quarters of a length win in the Grade 2, $250,000 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar on Sunday.

DEL MAR, Calif. - From claim to fame. That is the route Choctaw Nation has taken. After being claimed for $40,000 from of a maiden-claiming race in his victorious debut, he rattled off three more victories. And on Sunday, in his first try against stakes runners, including the nation's top-ranked horse, Choctaw Nation cleared his biggest hurdle to date.

Choctaw Nation unleashed a powerful closing charge on the final turn and overhauled Pleasantly Perfect in the final 70 yards to capture the Grade 2, $250,000 before 19,311 at Del Mar. Choctaw Nation won by three-quarters of a length, with During another five lengths back in third.

With Victor Espinoza aboard, Choctaw Nation ($14.60) covered 1 1/16 miles on the fast main track in 1:42.32.

Choctaw Nation was in receipt of 10 pounds (124-114) from Pleasantly Perfect, who was making his first start since capturing the Dubai World Cup in March. Pleasantly Perfect was sent off as the 3-5 favorite, with Choctaw Nation the third choice among seven runners.

The complexion of the race changed dramatically at the start when Night Patrol, the likely pacesetter, stumbled badly. During inherited the lead, but set a soft opening quarter-mile of 24.07 seconds. Pleasantly Perfect, fresh from the four-month layoff, was pulling hard behind the slow pace and stuck his head in front after a half-mile in 47.50 seconds.

During, Pleasantly Perfect, and Taste of Paradise raced three abreast into the far turn and completed six furlongs in 1:11.25. By then, however, Choctaw Nation was beginning to unwind his trademark late kick.

Pleasantly Perfect grabbed the lead turning into the stretch, but Choctaw Nation had too much momentum.

"The only thing we banked on was that Pleasantly Perfect might have the Dubai bounce," said Jeff Mullins, who trains Choctaw Nation for owner Bob Bone. "If he hadn't gone to Dubai, we probably wouldn't have gone past him."

Mike Smith, who rode Pleasantly Perfect, blamed himself. "He got a little on the bridle," Smith said. "My fault. Bad ride."

Richard Mandella, who trains Pleasantly Perfect, said he was at fault for putting too much speed into Pleasantly Perfect with a sharp, three-furlong blowout three days before the race.

"I put a little speed into him because he was shortening up, but he was too fresh," Mandella said. "I guess we had to sacrifice this to go on to the next one."

The 1 1/16-mile San Diego is this track's prep for the $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 22, which is the next scheduled start for Pleasantly Perfect.

Choctaw Nation, a 4-year-old gelding by Louis Quatorze, is now unbeaten in five starts. He was claimed on Feb. 29 from trainer Bruce Headley.