11/08/2008 12:00AM

Strike a Deal clears personal hurdle

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Strike a Deal wins the Grade 2 Red Smith, ending his streak of near misses in graded races.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Strike a Deal finally closed the deal in a graded stakes race.

A bridesmaid in five graded events, Strike a Deal was second to none Saturday, rolling to a seven-length victory over European-invader Lauro in the Grade 2, $150,000 Red Smith Handicap at soggy Aqueduct.

It was three-quarters of a length back to Banrock in third. Always First, Hard Top, Presious Passion, and Wheels Up at Noon completed the order of finish.

Strike a Deal had lost 10 consecutive races since winning an overnight stakes at Belmont in May 2007. Since then, Strike a Deal suffered a head loss in the 2007 Grade 3 Colonial Turf Cup, which was followed by a nose loss in the Grade 2 Virginia Derby. This year, he was beaten a neck in the Grade 1 United Nations in July, and most recently finished second in the Grade 3 Knickerbocker Handicap at Belmont.

"Finally!" trainer Alan Goldberg said from Monmouth Park where he watched the race via simulcast. "It took two years. One thing about it, he kept trying. He's been such a frustrating horse. You give him a length he probably could have made $2 million."

The $90,000 first-place prize Saturday pushed his career earnings to $932,341 for Richard Santulli's Jayeff B Stables.

Chuck Lopez kept Strike a Deal wide and in the clear to avoid being hit with the sod that was flying up from the waterlogged course and to avoid getting stuck behind horses. After Strike a Deal wanted to make a premature move, Lopez took a hard hold of his horse down the backside and he dropped back to fifth before launching a five-wide bid around the far turn.

Strike a Deal, a son of Smart Strike, overpowered Lauro at the eighth pole and drew off, covering the 1 3/8 miles in 2:23.28 over a yielding course. He returned $10.60.

"He's difficult," Lopez said. "I had my hands full at one point. He's off the bridle then he's on the bridle. He wants to lay in a little bit, and then he doesn't do it at all. When I got around the turn he's laying in, I'm trying to stay clear [because] I know if I get him running and I let him get inside where I'm behind a wall of horses I won't have anywhere to go with him. . . . I hit him the one time and he went right on about his business."