Updated on 09/17/2011 12:56PM

Hard Buck wins River City

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - 2003 could have been a rebuilding year for trainer Ken McPeek. Stable star Repent was retired in February, and Harlan's Holiday and Sarava - two horses he trained to Grade 1 victories - were transferred to other trainers last year.

Even following their departures, McPeek continues to produce. On Sunday he won another important stakes race, winning the Grade 3, $172,800 with Hard Buck, a horse he began training after the horse was shipped to America from Brazil.

In taking the River City, Hard Buck displayed the determination that led to a victory in the Kentucky Cup Mile at Kentucky Downs. He tracked the pace in third, and when asked to shoot through a narrow opening on the inside, he spurted through along the rail to outgame pacesetter Warleigh by a half-length. Rowans Park finished a length further back in third.

"I could see the leader getting out a bit," said winning rider Brice Blanc. "So I took a chance."

Even with Hard Buck receiving a perfect, ground-saving trip, he still appeared to be running for second as the field entered the stretch. Warleigh, a winner of five straight races, had raced uncontested on the lead through slow fractions of 49.58 seconds and 1:14.56. He seemed in position to put away the field at the top of the stretch.

But when called upon by jockey Corey Lanerie, he could not draw away from Hard Buck. He opened up a length lead in midstretch but was run down in the final furlong.

"I had everything my way," said Lanerie. "When we turned for home he surged and I never, ever, thought anything would be coming up fast enough to pass me."

Hard Buck, owned by a partnership led by Jose Carlos Carnevale, improved his record to three-for-three since coming to the United Stakes. He raced a mile and an eighth on a yielding turf course in 1:51.60 and paid $25.20.

"He's a horse that if you give him something to aim at, he's going to get there," said McPeek. "He's tough. He's living up to what we always thought of him. He's a very nice horse."

Dr. Kashnikow and Better Talk Now, two of the main contenders for the River City, were scratched earlier in the day due to minor ailments. Dr. Kashnikow was running a fever and Better Talk Now was lame in his left front foot, their trainers said.

Sharbayan, the 9-5 favorite, was far behind the slow early pace and finished a non-threatening fifth.