Kinross Farm's Sur La Tete took the lead on the final turn and held off a furious rally from Hirapour to win the $50,000 Carolina First Carolina Cup (NSA-III) at Springdale Race Course Saturday.Trained by Neil Morris, the winner let Preemptive Strike set the early pace and was last in the compact field of four for much of the race. In front over the second-last hurdle, Sur La Tete, ridden by Chris Read, fought off Hirapour's stretch run to win by a head in 4:33 for the 2 3/8 miles over 14 fences. Preemptive Strike was 3 3/4 lengths back in third.Preemptive Strike set a steady pace early, but was not allowed to take control of the race as the others stayed close. Heading into the ninth fence, the speed increased dramatically as Hirapour (Matt McCarron) and Sur La Tete inched closer.Sur La Tete, who won two-thirds of the Steeplechase Triple Crown last year, struck first and challenged Preemptive Strike at the second-last as Hirapour waited. Sur La Tete jumped the last with a slight lead, but Hirapour summoned his finishing kick while Preemptive Strike faded just slightly, leaving Sur La Tete and Hirapour to sprint for the line. Hirapour carved into the margin, reached Sur La Tete's neck but no farther. With the $30,000 first-place check, the winner pushed his career steeplechase bankroll to $314,560 with six wins.Morris, based in Virginia, credited victory to some tactical changes. "We broke a little sharper and then let (Preemptive Strike) come to us," said Morris. "We did not give Preemptive Strike all the grace that he needs. We didn't want to chase him, but we didn't want to get displaced either. We were close enough, and then he arrived."The 7-year-old son of Sky Classic arrived with authority, got first run on Hirapour and had enough left late to get the win.
Read knew Hirapour was closing fast, but was impressed with his horse's determination late. "I could hear Matt coming and I knew his horse was going to dig in, but my horse dug in too," said the jockey, also Morris' assistant trainer. "He was not going to let Hirapour get past him."