Polaris Stable's Preemptive Strike caught favorites Hirapour and Al Skywalker in the stretch to win the $50,000 Carolina First Carolina Cup Saturday before a crowd estimated at 70,000 at Springdale Race Course in Camden, S.C.Considered an upsetter when he won the March 7 Little Everglades Stakes, the 6-year-old confirmed his talent with a gutsy effort. Preemptive Strike set the early pace, gave up the lead to two-time Cup winner Al Skywalker after a mile and dropped back to third leaving the backstretch the final time as favored Hirapour swept to the front. Third over the second-last of 14 fences, the winner landed running and reached contention again approaching the last. Preemptive Strike split horses, and held off Hirapour by three-quarters of a length at the wire. Al Skywalker, bidding for an unprecedented third win in the race, finished third. Ridden by Robbie Walsh for trainer Paul Rowland, the winner covered the 2 3/8 miles in 4:23 over a firm turf course. After getting passed, Walsh figured he was destined for third. "I thought I was in trouble and thought about folding up so I could save him for another day," said the jockey. "He winged the second-last, and I gave him a shake up and he opened up. They went, but they didn't open up on me so I thought, 'maybe.' The way he jumped the last two made it for him." Bred in Maryland by Klo Carroll, Preemptive Strike was converted to hurdling in 2002 and picked up the fourth win of his career. The son of Roanoke leads all jumpers in 2004 earnings with $54,000 thanks to Saturday's $30,000 payday and likely earned a ticket to Keeneland's Royal Chase (NSA-I) with the win. "I have to think about Kentucky now because it's another once-in-a-lifetime thing like this was and I think the horse deserves to try to prove himself again," said Rowland, who worked for noted trainers Michael Dickinson and Barry Hills and now manages the Thayer's small Pennsylvania farm.
Preemptive Strike snapped Hirapour's six-race winning streak, which started with five in a row in England and included a victory in his U.S. debut last fall. The next stop on the NSA circuit is the Stoneybrook Steeplechase in Southern Pines, N.C., on April 3.