Azul Coast was the forgotten Baffert; the also-ran in the three-headed contingent the Hall of Fame conditioner sent out in the Grade 3 Native Diver Stakes at Del Mar on Saturday.

Azul Coast-Native Diver
Azul Coast and Flavien Prat won their first graded-stakes race Saturday, capturing the Grade 3 Native Diver Stakes at Del Mar. (Image: Benoit Photo)

Hidden in the shadow of the more heralded Eight Rings and the veteran stakes runner Ax Man, and coming out of the shadow of his poor finish in last month’s Grade 1 Awesome Again, Azul Coast emerged into the light. He broke free in the stretch and held off Kiss Today Goodbye for a half-length victory and his first graded stakes score.

Azul Coast hadn’t won a stakes race since capturing the El Camino Real Derby on Golden Gate Fields’ synthetic track. That came in February 2020, seven races and 21 months ago. Since then, he finished seventh in the 2020 Santa Anita Derby, fifth in the Grade 3 La Jolla Handicap, seventh in the Grade 3 Tokyo City Cup, and seventh in last month’s Awesome Again. That latter defeat came by 17 ¼ lengths.

The race before that, however, Azul Coast won a Del Mar allowance optional claiming race by a head. That victory came with his career-best 115 Equibase Speed Figure. Aside from showing there was something in the tank, it also showed that Azul Coast likes Del Mar. Two of his four career victories came at the seaside, suburban San Diego track.

Put Azul Coast on the coast

“Azul runs his best races down here,” Baffert told Del Mar’s press office. “He likes this track and he ran really impressive. When I ran him in the Awesome Again, he just laid an egg. He was up there close and I was really disappointed. But he was chasing Medina Spirit.”

This time, Azul Coast was chasing his stablemate, Ax Man, who set the early pace. Bumped coming out of the gate by Bal Harbour, Azul Coast stalked a moderate, unhurried pace. While Ax Man and even-money favorite Eight Rings set that pace, Azul Coast and Flavien Prat bided their time. That time came coming around the far turn when Prat steered Azul Coast four-wide and hit the gas.

Ax Man tired and faded, winding up fifth. Meanwhile, Kiss Today Goodbye entered the picture. He’d follow Azul Coast and Eight Rings down the stretch, catching Eight Rings but not Azul Coast. He held on for that half-length win that paid $8.40 at 3.20/1. His 112 Equibase was Azul Coast’s third triple-digit Equibase in his last four starts.

Baffert feasts on Del Mar stakes

“We were in a good spot for the whole trip,” Prat said. “I could tell the pace was only moderate, so I moved him up closer near the three-eighth (pole). “Then, when we went, we were in good position and he was ready. A good win.”

That good win gave Prat his 77th Del Mar stakes win and Baffert his record 147th. Eight Rings finished third, wheeling back two weeks after finishing fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile on this same track.

“I told the jockeys you guys ride your own race and hopefully we’ll run 1-2-3,” Baffert said. “I’m happy for the connections; the well has been a little dry lately. Main thing is that we got the ‘W.’”