07/31/2008 12:00AM

Old Man Buck tries to win one for old friend


Cliff Guilliams long held the opinion that his hometown track, Ellis Park, would be better off showcasing 3-year-olds during its annual meet, rather than the fillies and mares who take center stage every August in the Grade 3 Gardenia Stakes.

Guilliams, the longtime turf writer and chart-caller who died unexpectedly in April at age 52, never got the chance to see whether that change would occur. But as a small matter of consolation, Ellis chose to honor Guilliams by renaming what had been the Regaey Island Stakes for him.

Fittingly, the $50,000 Cliff Guilliams Memorial Stakes, which anchors an 11-race Saturday card at Ellis in Henderson, Ky., is for 3-year-olds. Contested at 1 1/16 miles over the turf, the race drew a field of nine, headed by Old Man Buck and Cherokee Triangle.

Old Man Buck, trained by Ken McPeek, comes out of a far more demanding race, the $750,000 Virginia Derby just two Saturdays ago. The colt set the pace in the 1 1/4-mile race before finishing sixth, beaten nearly seven lengths.

"I had the option of running him back at Saratoga or at Ellis," said McPeek. "There's one main reason I picked the Ellis race, and that's Cliff. I'd absolutely love to win this race in honor of him. Cliff was a great friend who was always real supportive of everything I did in my career."

McPeek said the two-week turnaround "really shouldn't bother" Old Man Buck. "He's run well doing the same kind of thing before. We just need to get him back on a winning track."

Old Man Buck wore blinkers in his last four starts but will shed them Saturday because "he never really needed them anyway," said McPeek.

Cherokee Triangle, trained by Mike Maker, posted his first victory since last September by shipping to Canterbury Park last month to capture the Come Summer Stakes. Cherokee Triangle long has demonstrated a fondness for grass.

Larry Melancon rides Old Man Buck, while Victor Lebron is named on Cherokee Triangle.

Fringe contenders in the race include Crimson Comic, Doctor Cal, and Veiled Prophet.

The Guilliams Memorial is carded as the 10th race on a solid card that also includes two allowances (races 7 and 11) and a starter-allowance (race 3). First post is 12:40 p.m. Central.

Meanwhile, the $150,000 Gardenia is set for two weeks from Saturday, Aug. 16, as part of the annual Big Four Stakes program.