10/13/2006 11:00PM

Best of Buddies by a neck

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It was a day for Chicago horses, all across the country, and in Chicago, too. Sutra won the Frizette at Belmont, Vacare the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland, and Best of Buddies, Hawthorne-based and Illinois-bred, knocked off the big guns here at Hawthorne in the Grade 3, $250,000 .

With heavily favored Brilliant a no-show when it counted, and second-choice Go Between a non-factor the entire race, Best of Buddies battled bravely the length of the stretch and held on for a neck victory over a fast-finishing Crested, with Arbuckle Bandit another neck behind in third. Four more lengths found Sea of Trees, followed by Go Between, 3-5 shot Brilliant, Creative Force, and Tally Up.

Best of Buddies, bred and owned by Barr Three LLC and trained by Michelle Boyce, paid $26 to win, and was timed in 1:50.09 for 1 1/8 miles on firm turf. An enthusiastic Eddie Martin rode Best of Buddies - and did more than that. Martin, lingering in Chicago well into the fall this year, has been breezing Best of Buddies regularly for Boyce and has gotten heavily involved in Best of Buddies's development.

"I've tried to teach him to relax," said Martin. "I've taught him a lot, turned him into a racehorse."

Martin let Best of Buddies go to the lead from post 1 and was able to slow down the pace, getting an opening quarter-mile in 24.62 seconds and a half in a slow 49.74. When Best of Buddies won a third-level allowance race here Sept. 29, Martin said he let Best of Buddies open up at the top of the stretch. This time, he waited as long as he could.

"Eddie fits him like a glove," said Boyce, who said she was concerned about a relatively quick turnaround between starts. "He convinced me he wasn't tired after the last one."

Brilliant, so impressive winning the Kent Breeders' Cup on soft turf in his most recent race, raced three wide around the first turn, but seemed perfectly positioned just behind the slow pace at the quarter pole.

"The whole race I was comfortable," said jockey Robby Albarado. "I'm thinking turning for home he's about to sprint home. He offered some, but not what I was anticipating."