Although he has passed on to the winner's circle in the sky, the legacy of Fred Hooper continues to live through his horses. Hooper, who died Aug. 4 at the age of 102, bred 115 stakes winners and twice captured the Eclipse Award as the nation's top breeder. Moreover, his acumen was esteemed by two generations of horsemen. "I respected Mr. Hooper's wisdom tremendously," said John Eaton, whose Hooper-bred Whata Brainstorm sojourned to South Florida to capture the $200,000 Calder Derby (gr. IIIT) on Oct. 28. "When he spoke, I listened." In the case of Whata Brainstorm, Hooper spoke to Eaton through an intermediary with poor teeth. Eaton, an Atlanta-based periodontist, had a patient who knew Hooper, and he told the doctor that Hooper called the colt by Honor Grades, out of the Roberto mare What a Future, the best horse he ever bred. Since Hooper had been breeding Thoroughbreds for 55 years, with products including champions Susan's Girl and Precisionist, such praise stuck in Eaton's mind. Enough so that when he and partner Steve Laymon learned that Hooper's stock would be dispersed upon his demise, Eaton became more than casually interested. Again serendipity played a role; James Picou, who also trained horses for Eaton, had Whata Brainstorm in his barn. "I asked Jimmy if he thought we might be able to work out a deal before the dispersal," Eaton said. "And it took some negotiations with Wanda (Hooper), but we got it done." What Eaton got was a 3-year-old who had just run second in the Saranac Handicap (gr. IIIT), and who, while in the Calder-based barn of Bill White as a juvenile, had won Calder's Mecke Stakes. After a second-place finish in the Lawrence Realization Stakes (gr. IIIT) and a disappointing sixth in the Jamaica Handicap (gr. IIT)--"The pace was just too slow that day and he couldn't make up any ground," excused Tom Winchell, Picou's assistant--a last-minute decision was made to send the colt to Calder for the Derby. And although, in Winchell's words, "he had started to grow his New York coat," he did not appear uncomfortable on this 85-degree South Florida day. "You could tell he knew he was back home," Winchell observed.
"I saw him in his barn in the morning and thought, 'OK, he looks like a nice horse,' " said winning jockey Rosemary Homeister Jr. "But then when he came into the paddock I was like 'Whoa!' "