Tackleberry, who set the pace but relinquished his lead to longshot Dream Maestro, fought back along the rail in deep stretch and nipped his rival by a nose in a thrilling finish of the $100,000 Fred W. Hooper Handicap (gr. III) (VIDEO) Dec. 11 at Calder Casino & Race Course.
Owned and trained by Luis Olivares, Tackleberry won three straight coming into the Hooper including the six-furlong Jack Dudley Sprint Handicap for Florida-breds on Nov. 13. The 3-year-old son of Montbrook was making his graded stakes debut and stretching out to 1 1/8 miles for the first time. But he showed the determination of a veteran that had been here before.
The speedy gelding, as he had done in his previous three starts, set the pace under jockey Javier Santiago while taking his seven rivals through splits of :24.17, :48.60, and 1:11.24. He was pressed by Cash Rules in the for three-quarters of a mile in a strung out field, with Dream Maestro, St. Maximus Gato, and Chirac racing in the next group.
Tackleberry still held the lead when he rounded the final turn but Dream Maestro and Juan Leyva were right on his heels and the 26-1 outsider took a narrow lead in upper stretch. Racing along the inside, Tackleberry determinedly fought back and the two rivals head-bobbed to the wire.
The final time on the fast dirt was 1:54.42. Mambo Meister, the 8-5 favorite, was another three lengths back in third.
Tackleberry has made all eight of his career starts at Calder and they have all come this season. He broke his maiden in September and reeled off a pair of allowance wins before scoring the Jack Dudley by more than five lengths.
Bred by Ocala Stud, the winner is out of the Concerto mare Box of Joy. He is now 5-2-0 with earnings of $207,225.
"I bought him privately as a 2-year-old (from Ocala Stud) and then had to take a chip out of his knee, which is why he didn’t start until July," Olivares said. "He had won at a mile here, but I ran in this race to see if he’d get the mile-and-an-eighth, and he did. That was the objective and now I’ll point him for the Sunshine Millions (Classic) at Gulfstream (Jan. 29).”
Tackleberry paid $15.40, $8.20, and $4.20. Dream Maestro, who finished runner-up for the 16th time in 39 starts, returned $20.40 and $6.80, and filled out a $261.80 exacta (1-4). The trifecta (1-4-7) was worth $649.40.
Chirach finished fourth, followed by King Ghidorah, Imperial Council, Cash Rules, and St. Maximus Gato.