Mambo Meister, who has recorded all nine of his lifetime wins at Calder Casino & Race Course, is the one to beat in the $100,000 Fred W. Hooper Handicap (gr. III) Dec. 11 at the South Florida racetrack.
A field of eight was drawn for the 1 1/8-mile contest on dirt, with 5-year-old Mambo Meister assigned top weight of 120 pounds. The gelded son of King Cugat is one of two graded winners in the field and will break from post 7 with Manoel Cruz aboard.
Of Mambo Meister’s nine wins, seven have been stakes and three in graded stakes company. He won the Spend a Buck Handicap (gr. III) last season and has scored the Miami Mile Handicap (gr. IIIT) on turf and Memorial Day Handicap (gr. III) on dirt this season. Trainer Phil Gleaves considered trying his charge in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) at Churchill Downs last month, but after he finished a distant second in the Oct. 16 Spend a Buck, he decided to bypass the race. He finished fifth in the BC Dirt Mile a year ago on Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride.
Though Mambo Meister has been a versatile horse during his four-year career that has seen him earn $573,575 from 32 starts, he is winless in three starts at the Hooper distance. All of his victories have been at one mile or 1 1/16 miles, but his six wins on the Calder dirt still gives him a nice edge. He has been working well at his home track since the Spend a Buck including a bullet four-furlong breeze in :48 1/5 on Dec. 1, co-best of 35 moves that day.
Quantum Racing Team #1 owns Mambo Meister, who was bred in Kentucky by J. R. Cavanaugh and is out of the Desert Secret mare Bleu’slittlesecret.
The other graded winner in the field is New Jersey-based Chirac. The 5-year-old gelded son of Sligo Bay romped in the Philip H. Iselin (gr. III) last year at Monmouth Park, where he has made 12 of his 19 lifetime starts. Though winless in three starts this season, Chirac has hit the board in all of them including a third-place finish in the Monmouth Cup (gr. II) two starts back.
Paco Lopez will ride Chirac, who is expected to be part of the pace. Jane Cibelli trains the Florida-bred for Pia Kirkham.
Other contenders that are likely to be pace contenders are 3-year-olds Tackleberry and St. Maximus Gato. Florida-bred Tackleberry has won three consecutive starts for owner/trainer Luis Olivares including the state-restricted Jack Dudley Sprint Handicap on Nov. 13 at Calder. This will be his first time going a route of ground.
Robert Hunt’s St. Maximus Gato was third to Lookin At Lucky in the Indiana Derby (gr. II) Oct. 2 and was beaten by a neck last out in the Buck’s Boy Handicap for Illinois-breds at Hawthorne.
Another contender is Sequoia Racing’s Imperial Council, who makes his return to stakes company after three consecutive allowance starts. Imperial Council was a highly thought of 3-year-old in 2009 after finishing second in the Gotham (gr. III) and Peter Pan (gr. II) in New York. But he has collected only three wins in 13 starts and has not tried a route this year for trainer Shug McGaughey.
$100,000 Fred W. Hooper Handicap (gr. III, Race 11, 4:45 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer 1. Tackleberry (FL), J Santiago, 114, L Olivares
2. Cash Rules (FL), E Coa, 113, D Fawkes
3. King Ghidorah (FL), J L Alvarez, 110, B Parboo
4. Dream Maestro (FL), J C Leyva, 115, W A Kaplan
5. Chirac (FL), P Lopez, 118, J Cibelli
6. St. Maximus Gato (IL), E O Nunez, 113, D F Hunt
7. Mambo Meister (KY), M R Cruz, 120, P A Gleaves
8. Imperial Council (KY), R Maragh, 114, C R McGaughey III