02/22/2004 1:00AM

Hard Buck prevails in Gulfstream BC

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EQUI-PHOTO
Hard Buck collars Balto Star at the wire to take a head decision in the Grade 1, $250,000 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap on Sunday.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Hard Buck earned himself his first Grade 1 victory in this country as well as a return trip to Dubai for next month's World Cup day with a game head victory over Balto Star in Sunday's $250,000 .

Hard Buck finished far back over the main track at Nad al Sheba in the Grade 2 UAE Derby on the undercard for the 2003 Dubai World Cup. But trainer Ken McPeek, who purchased Hard Buck privately in Brazil for the Team Victory I Stable, said it will be a long time before the horse runs on dirt again.

"The people from Dubai are here today," said McPeek who also owns 25 per cent of Hard Buck. "We have a choice between the mile and an eighth(Dubai Duty Free) and mile and one half(Dubai Sheema Classic) races and right now I'd say we're leaning towards the mile and one half."

Both the Duty Free and Sheema Classic are run on the grass.

The $2 million Sheema Classic would seem the logical choice considering the manner in which Hard Buck rallied to win the one mile and three eighths Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup under a well judged ride by Edgar Prado.

Hard Buck rated just off the early pace of Balto Star, rallied three wide around the final bend then wore down the leader in the closing strides. Balto Star, already a Grade 1 winner, set the pace as expected dug in gamely when challenged by both Slew Valley and Hard Buck entering the stretch and just failed to last.

Kicken Kris rallied mildly to finish third followed by Request for Parole, Quest Star, Slew Valley, defending champ Man From Wicklow and Magic Mecke.

Hard Buck, a 5-year-old son of Spend a Buck, paid $25.00 after covering the distance in a reported 2:11.56 seconds over a firm course.

"I decided to run him in the slop here last month because he needed a race," said McPeek. "I had planned on running him in the McKnight at Calder but he got a little virus in December and we had to skip the race. Edgar learned a little about him off that last race and we did too."