Hard Aces and jockey Santiago Gonzalez win the 2016 Cougar II Handicap.

Hard Aces and jockey Santiago Gonzalez win the 2016 Cougar II Handicap.

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Hard Aces Too Tough in Cougar II

Snapped a nine-race winless stretch after the leading at every call.

Hronis Racing's Hard Aces took control at the start and repelled a stern challenge from Quick Casablanca around the final turn to win the $100,000 Cougar II Handicap (gr. III) July 24 at Del Mar

Video: Cougar II H. (G3)

The stout-hearted son of Hard Spun  won by a half-length from determined Quick Casablanca and finished off 1 1/2 miles in 2:30.55 on a fast track to snap a nine-race winless stretch dating back to his victory in the 2015 Gold Cup at Santa Anita (gr. I).

Quick Casablanca, victor in the 2016 San Juan Capistrano (gr. IIIT), chased the winner for much of the trip and got his head in front briefly during the last of three turns. Hard Aces knuckled down for jockey Santiago Gonzalez and led into the stretch by a half-length, gamely holding that opponent off to win.

Hard Aces ticked off fractions of :51.15 for the half and 1:16 for six furlongs and was timed in 1:41.99 for a mile, while Quick Casablanca pressed a head back. Though a willing rival, Quick Casablanca gave way when Hard Aces was given his cue.

The 2-5 favorite, Hard Aces paid $2.80 and $2.10. Quick Casablanca returned $2.80 and completed a $2.60 exacta. There was no show wagering because of the four-horse field. Seve's Road finished third.

Trained by John Sadler, Hard Aces finished on the board in three of his previous four starts, including his third in this year's edition of the Gold Cup June 25 last time out. Sunday's win puts his career line at 7-5-8 from 33 starts, which includes his runner-up finish in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) in March.

Hard Aces was bred in Kentucky by Dreamchaser Thorobreds. His dam is the Quiet American mare All in With Aces.

Energia Fribby came in fourth to complete the order of finish. Hoppertunity and Inforbdad were scratched.