The parade of longshot winners on Saturday's Grand Slam II program at Calder Race Course continued in the $100,000 Fred W. Hooper Handicap (gr. III), in which 76-1 American Halo held off General Grant and Sir Bear to win by a half-length. Under Charlene Hunt, American Halo completed the 1 1/8-mile race in 1:51.68 on a fast track.
After the favorite won the first race on the card at Calder Saturday, double-digit win mutuels ruled the day, highlighted by American Halo's $154 return for the Hooper win. The first race aside, the lowest win price on the day going into the Hooper came in the sixth race, when Travis Raymond paid $13.60 for the win.
In the Hooper, American Halo pressed early leader Reporter, dropped back to third as Groomstick Stock's rushed up to lead after a half-mile in :47.84, regained second as Reporter tired, and drew away in upper stretch before just lasting for the hard-fought win. General Grant finished second, a neck ahead of Sir Bear. Broadway Tune came home fourth, followed by Groomstick Stock's, Double Affair, A Fleets Dancer, and Reporter.
The win was American Halo's first on the year, coming in his seventh attempt. His most recent win prior to the Hooper came in June of 1999, when he won the $30,000 Great Sound Stakes at Calder. The Great Sound win is his only other stakes win. He earned $60,000 for the win, his sixth in 27 starts. American Halo (American Century -- Halos Star, by Halo) is a 4-year-old colt and was bred in Kentucky by John Franks. He is trained by Angel Medina for owner Jose G. Paparoni.
For Hunt, a seven-pound apprentice jockey, the winning ride came in her first stakes race and without the benefit of her seven-pound allowance.
"I had all the confidence in the world in Charlene (Hunt). She's done very well for me," said Medina. "This horse didn't do well in the summer. He doesn't sweat, but I went ahead and tried him a couple of times and then gave him time off. He loves this weather. I knew it was a very tough field, but he's been doing very well and I thought he would be able to use his speed in here. I am so happy."
"I am ecstatic," said Hunt. "My instructions were to go to the lead, but Coa (jockey Eibar Coa on Reporter) came up on my inside and actually fought me for it. By nature I'm an off the pace rider, so I just said to myself, 'go ahead and I'll just sit off you.' Then Rosemary (jockey Homeister on Groomstick Stock's) came on the outside, so I thought, okay you guys duel it out. We had a mile and an eighth. ... I've never been on the horse and I didn't know what to expect from him. He was very comfortable -- he wasn't pulling on me and he wasn't lazy, he was just galloping along nicely. Midway through the turn I moved along with the pacesetter and at the top of the lane I really went to hand riding and asking him -- he drew away. He kept going and it was wonderful."
The American Halo-General Grant exacta returned $1,194.80. (Chart, Equibase