02/05/2005 12:00AM

Closing Argument scores

Closing Argument (center) drives between the favored High Fly (left) and the pacesetting Kansas City Boy to win the Grade 3 Holy Bull.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Closing Argument, benefiting from a ground-saving trip that was the reciprocal of the wide journey encountered by favored High Fly, pulled off a mild upset in Saturday's Grade 3, $150,000 , the first of three 1 1/8-mile Kentucky Derby prep races this meet at Gulfstream Park.

Closing Argument ($17.80) could have gone in the shorter Hutcheson Stakes earlier in the day, but trainer Kiaran McLaughlin thought it was more important to go in the Holy Bull in order to gauge Closing Argument's Derby credentials.

He passed this test, winning by 1 1/2 lengths under Cornelio Velasquez after turning back Kansas City Boy and High Fly in the final quarter-mile. Kansas City Boy re-rallied to take second by a half-length from High Fly after High Fly, apparently exhausted from his wide trip, lugged in and switched back to his left lead in the final yards, nearly clipping the heels of the winner. G P's Black Knight, who trailed the eight-horse field, was pulled up.

"At least he answered the question about distance," McLaughlin said after Closing Argument completed 1 1/8 miles on the fast main track in 1:50.14. "Breaking from the 2 post was very important, especially with the big favorite getting hung wide the whole way."

High Fly, the 3-5 favorite, entered the Holy Bull with a perfect 3-for-3 record. This, though, was his first try around two turns, and he had a miserable trip, going four paths wide on the first turn and three wide on the far turn under jockey Eddie Castro.

"We're certainly disappointed that he didn't win," said High Fly's trainer, Bill White. "It appeared turning for home that it was a three-horse race, and he just got tired."

Closing Argument, a 3-year-old colt by Successful Appeal owned by Marcia and Phil Cohen, has now won three times in six starts. He completed his five-race 2-year-old campaign by finishing second to Texcess in the Delta Jackpot at Delta Downs.

McLaughlin said he was not sure where Closing Argument would make his next start. McLaughlin had given some thought to sending Closing Argument to Dubai for the $2 million United Arab Emirates Derby on March 26, but said all plans were uncertain in light of Saturday's victory.

"This is a big day," he said. "I haven't looked past this."

The final two 1 1/8-mile Derby preps at Gulfstream are the Fountain of Youth on March 5 and the April 2Florida Derby.

Hutcheson: Proud Accolade simply spectacular

Proud Accolade may not be proven around two turns, but around one turn, he can be simply spectacular. The Champagne Stakes winner returned to a one-turn race in Saturday's Grade 2, $150,000 , and overcame a rough trip to win going away by 4 1/2 lengths. Park Avenue Ball was second and Vicarage third in the field of six.

Proud Accolade ($3.60) started from the rail, and was stuck there entering the far turn of the 7 1/2-furlong race when pacesetters Devil at Sea and Carson's Bridge stopped in front of him. Jockey John Velazquez had to wait, then tip Proud Accolade four lanes wide, but Proud Accolade responded by rushing past his rivals. He was timed in 1:29.90 on the fast main track.

"He tried to go into a hole that got shut off, but I guess it was a blessing because I snatched him up and brought him outside and he just jumped into it," Velazquez said. "We always thought he could go longer distances. We're scratching our heads about the last two races."

Proud Accolade won his first three starts around one turn, but then failed when trying two turns in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Hollywood Futurity.

Todd Pletcher, who trains Proud Accolade, said he was eager to send Proud Accolade two turns again, but was not sure if it would be in his next start.

"You'd like to think he'd get a distance," Pletcher said. "I'm not saying he'll be a mile-and-a-quarter horse. But he did win going a mile and a sixteenth in a Grade 1 against Afleet Alex," Pletcher said, referring to the Champagne.