Trainer Neil Drysdale was the coolest character at Hollywood Park as his turf horses King of Happiness and Red Fort battled to a desperate finish in the $107,200 Inglewood Handicap (gr. III) Saturday. King of Happiness won the head bob by a nose.
Ridden by Patrick Valenzuela, Maktoum Al Maktoum's King of Happiness looked like a sure winner at the eighth pole. Making his first start since a fifth-place finish in the Kelso Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIT) Oct. 9 at Belmont Park, he was all out to get the victory over the Irish-bred Red Fort, who closed gamely for the final eighth to just miss.
"I would have been happy with a dead heat," Drysdale said. "I couldn't tell (who won), I really couldn't tell because it was just a bob. One head was up and one head was down. (King of Happiness) did well with the time off. They were both about where I expected them to be."
Red Fort, the 6-5 favorite who was coming off an optional/claiming win March 17 in his American debut at Santa Anita Park, was in front one stride past the wire under Corey Nakatani.
The final time was 1:40 3/5.
It was four lengths back to third-place finisher Just Wonder.
Winless in four stakes last year, the 6-year-old King of Happiness, a chestnut son of Spinning World-Mystery Rays (Nijinsky II), finished fourth in both the Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IT) and Eddie Read Handicap (gr. IT). He captured his first stakes win since taking the Craven Stakes (Eng-III) in April 2002.
Drysdale and Valenzuela collected their first Inglewood victory.
King of Happiness settled in second off the rail after vying for the early lead with Mister Acpen, returning to action for the first time since December 2003. After setting a tepid pace of :24 and :47 4/5, Mister Acpen tired on the far turn and King of Happiness had command as they reached the stretch. Only Red Fort, who drifted in as they straightened for home but came on strong, had a chance at the end.
"Neil told me he was a free running horse, so I let him do what he wanted to do," Valenzuela said. "When he switched to his left lead going into the turn, he started picking it up nice. So I let him do what he wanted to do, and he wanted to win. I didn't want to hit him because he was giving it everything he had. But I had to give him that little tap at the end to maybe get that nose on this stablemate."
Bred in Kentucky by Flaxman Holdings Ltd., King of Happiness won for the fifth time in 19 career starts and has earned $305,422.
The 2-1 choice in the field of six, he paid $6.80, $3 and $2.20. Red Fort, who started nine times in England before transferring to the United States for the 2005 season, returned $2.80 and $2.20. The British-bred Just Wonder, ridden by Rene Douglas for the first time, was $2.20 to show.
"I thought I beat him," Nakatani said. "Pat thought I beat him, but the line judge, you'd think, drew a different line. This horse, though, I think is something special, and the farther he goes, the better I think he's going to get."
Inesperado, Fail Me Not and Mister Acpen followed. Vangelis and Capitano scratched.