Brazilian-bred Hard Buck rallied on the outside to get up in the final two strides, defeating favored Balto Star by a head in the $190,000 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IT) on the turf Sunday.
Hard Buck, ridden by Edgar Prado and overlooked at odds of 11-1, completed the 1 3/8-mile journey on firm going in 2:11 2/5. Kicken Kris, was third, a half-length behind the pacesetting Balto Star, with Request for Parole another length back in fourth.
Prado placed Hard Buck, who carried 117 pounds, in a tracking position in fourth place, some four lengths behind Balto Star, who had John Velazquez aboard with top weight of 122. Balto Star carved out fractions of :24 1/5, :48 4/5 and 1:36 1/5, and took a two-length lead in the stretch. But Hard Buck, who made a three-wide move on the far turn, soon came to challenge with Kicken Kris and Request for Parole also rallying from mid-pack in the stretch. Balto Star could not quite hold off the winner in the closing yards.
Balto Star earned $50,000 for his runner-up performance to push his career earnings to $2,002,946 for Anstu Stables. The 6-year-old Glitterman
gelding has a lifetime mark of 11-7-2 from 34 starts.
Less than two lengths separated the first five finishers.
Trained by Ken McPeek for owner Team Victory I, the 5-year-old Spend a Buck horse won his fourth stakes in five starts in the United States after running ninth in the UAE Derby (UAE-II) in Dubai March 29. Prior to that he competed in his native country, where he won the GP Linneo de Paula Machado (Brz-I) at Gavea in October 2002.
McPeek, who purchased the horse for Team Victory I in Brazil, said is considering sending Hard Buck back to Dubai for a start on March 27 in either the Dubai Sheema Classic (UAE-I) or the Dubai Duty Free (UAE-I).
In the U.S., Hard Buck won the River City Handicap (gr. IIIT) on a yielding course at Churchill Downs in November. He followed that effort with his only North American loss, a fourth-place finish by 14 lengths in the Canadian Turf Handicap (gr. III). That race was switched to a sloppy Gulfstream Park main track Jan. 31.
He earned $90,000 Sunday for his ninth career win in 15 starts. His bankroll increased to $329,148.
Haras Old Friends bred Hard Buck, who is from the Secreto mare Social Secret.
Hard Buck paid $25, $9.60 and $6.60 as the fifth choice in the field of eight.
Balto Star, the 2-1 choice who was looking for a repeat of his gate-to-wire victories in the Red Smith (gr. IIT) and the W.L. McKnight (gr. IIT) handicaps to close out 2003, returned $4.40 and $3.20. Kicken Kris, who won the Secretariat (gr. IT) at Arlington Park last summer, was $3.40 to show. The $2 exacta was worth $109.
Quest Star was fifth, followed by Slew Valley, Man From Wicklow and Magic Mecke.