Hronis Racing's Hard Aces has a grinding, relentless style that fits a certain type of race—the longer the better.
The 7-year-old son of Hard Spun has two wins in his last 17 starts and both have come on the dirt at 1 1/2 miles. His most recent came April 2 in the $100,000 Tokyo City Cup (G3) at Santa Anita Park, where he outlasted defending champion and favorite Big John B by a neck in an extended drive to the wire.
"He won one of these 1 1/2-mile races at Del Mar last summer, so we know he can get the distance," trainer John Sadler said, referencing Hard Aces' victory in the 2016 Cougar II Handicap (G3).
Big John B, who came into the Tokyo City Cup undefeated in two starts at 1 1/2 miles, trailed the field of six early, with Hard Aces racing in fifth, as Hi Happy and Beach View dueled slowly on the front end in the three-turn test.
In the final bend, Big John B advanced on the inside with jockey Rafael Bejarano motionless in the saddle as Santiago Gonzalez began to ask Hard Aces, who made his move wide, boxing the favorite in momentarily.
But in the stretch Big John B found his opening and the pair dueled to the wire, with Hi Happy hanging tough on the inside, but the favorite—also a son of Hard Spun—could not get past Hard Aces.
"He tried really hard," Bejarano said. "They went so slow early. I couldn't get him to relax. ... They were going so slow, I moved a little early, but we had every opportunity to win. We were just second best today."
Hi Happy and Beach View set fractions of :25.93, :50.34, 1:16.11, and 1:41.47 through a mile. Hi Happy held a half-length advantage through a mile and a quarter in 2:06.44 and only was a nose behind Big John B at the wire, right after Hard Aces finished off the race in 2:31.99.
Also a grade 1 winner in 2015, when he won the 1 1/4-mile Gold Cup at Santa Anita Stakes, Hard Aces now has a 8-6-9 record from 40 starts and more than $1.1 million in earnings.
"We don't really know what's next for him," Sadler said. "We'll look and see what comes up. We've enjoyed him and we'll just look for the right spots. I think we'll look at the race he won at Del Mar and the Breeders' Cup Marathon (G2)."