07/24/2016 6:20PM

Hard Aces holds off Quick Casablanca in Cougar II Handicap


DEL MAR, Calif.- The Grade 1 winner Hard Aces ended a nine-race losing streak with a grueling victory over Quick Casabalanca in Sunday’s $100,000 Cougar II Handicap at 1 1/2 miles on dirt at Del Mar.

The 2-5 favorite, Hard Aces was tested through the final half-mile by 3-1 Quick Casablanca before winning the Grade 3 race by a half-length. The style of the win was familiar to Kosta Hronis, who owns the 6-year-old with his brother, Pete.

“When he puts his head down, he’s a grinder,” Kosta Hronis said.

Hard Aces was timed in 2:30.55. The win could lead to a start in a stakes on Aug. 20 - the $1 million Pacific Classic at 1 1/4 miles on dirt, or the $250,000 Del Mar Handicap at 1 3/8 miles on turf.

Sunday, Hard Aces was ridden by Santiago Gonzalez and led by as many as four lengths in the first half-mile. Gonzalez did not vigorously urge Hard Aces when the field ran through the stretch for the first time, allowing Quick Casablanca to draw within a head.

Hard Aces maintained a narrow advantage through the first 1 1/4 miles, dogged by Quick Casablanca. Through the final quarter-mile, Hard Aces was in front by at least a half-length, but was pressed by Quick Casablanca.

“He won’t give you a big kick, but he’ll keep running,” Hronis said.

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 Quick Casablanca, the winner of the Grade 3 San Juan Capistrano Handicap on turf at Santa Anita in April, finished 2 1/4 lengths in front of Seve’s Road, who was followed by Energia Fribby.

The race did not live up to expectations after the overnight was published on Thursday. Hoppertunity, third in the Dubai World Cup in March, was scratched because of an elevated temperature. The Hronis-owned Infobedad was scratched on Sunday morning.

Hard Aces, a horse by Hard Spun, is trained by John Sadler. Hard Aces won the Grade 1 Gold Cup at Santa Anita in June 2015, and was third in the same race on June 25.

Hard Aces has won 7 of 33 starts and earned $999,645.