Vivid Photo went from county fair star to the world's top trotter yesterday, pulling away in the stretch and winning the $1.5 million Hambletonian at the Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford, N.J.

Vivid Photo, trained and driven by Roger Hammer, came from off the pace for the first time this year and beat favorite Classic Photo by 23/4 lengths in harness racing's biggest event.

Hammer, called "king of the county fairs" by Vivid Photo breeder Joe Thompson, won the Hambletonian on his first try.

The 59-year-old Hammer, who also co-owns the 3-year-old gelding, campaigns most of his horses on smaller circuits in Pennsylvania. He rarely shows up for big races, but believed Vivid Photo was capable of winning the Hambletonian.

Vivid Photo won last week's elimination heat in his first race at the Meadowlands. After the heat, Hammer returned to the Clearfield County Fair near Harrisburg, Pa., and won a bunch of races for purses of "$800, $900, $1,000," Hammer said.

Before an estimated crowd of 30,000 on a sunny day at the Meadowlands, Hammer was celebrating a $750,000 payday.

* HOCKEY: Ziggy Palffy left the Los Angeles Kings to become the second marquee free agent in a week to join the previously cash-strapped Pittsburgh Penguins, agreeing to a three-year, $13.5 million contract with the NHL's worst team in 2003-04.

Palffy, long one of the NHL's top scorers, agreed to the deal while in his native Slovakia. He joins a fast-growing stable of Penguins offensive talent that includes Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux, Mark Recchi, free agent defenseman Sergei Gonchar and No. 1 draft pick Sidney Crosby. . . . The Colorado Avalanche signed two-time all-star right wing Milan Hejduk to a five-year contract. Last season, he scored 25 goals and had 26 assists in 48 games with Pardubice HC in the Czech Elite League. . . . The Dallas Stars signed defenseman Stephane Robidas to a two-year deal. The 28-year-old Robidas spent the lockout playing in the German Elite League, where he had 15 goals and 32 assists.

* TENNIS: Mary Pierce used an overpowering ground game to beat unseeded Peng Shuai of China, 6-2, 6-2, and reach the title match at the Acura Classic in Carlsbad, Calif. Pierce will face Ai Sugiyama in the final. Sugiyama was leading 6-4, 4-3 when Akiko Morigami retired after her right knee flared up. The match marked the first time two Japanese players faced off in a WTA Tier I semifinal.

* ROWING: Neil Stanga of Arlington won a gold medal at the 2005 Junior World Rowing Championships yesterday in Brandenburg, Germany, as part of the U.S. men's eight boat.

The Americans' time (5 minutes 58.08 seconds) was more than a second ahead of its closest challengers, Germany (5:59.75) and defending champion Romania (5:59.89). Stanga, a recent graduate of Washington-Lee High School and a two-time All-Met, will row at Princeton.

* BOXING: Jeff Lacy successfully defended his IBF super middleweight title, knocking down Robin Reid four times before the challenger's corner stopped the fight after the seventh round in Tampa. Lacy (20-0) moved a step closer to a possible unification bout with WBO champion Joe Calzaghe later this year in Wales.

* SWIMMING: Brittany Reimer of Canada held off Kate Ziegler of Great Falls to win the 400 freestyle in 4 minutes 10.13 seconds at the U.S. Summer Nationals in Irvine, Calif. Ziegler finished in 4:10.41. World record holder Jessica Hardy defeated 2000 Olympic champion Megan Jendrick in the 100-meter breaststroke. Hardy led all the way and touched first in 1:07.45.

-- From News Services

and Staff Reports