11/18/2011 4:31PM

Calder: Mambo Meister torn between Hooper, McKnight handicaps

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Tom Keyser
Mambo Meister will run next weekend at Calder in either the Fred Hooper Handicap on dirt or the W.L. McKnight Handicap on the turf.

MIAMI – The conditions for the two graded stakes races carded for next Saturday at Calder couldn’t be more different. The Grade 3 Fred Hooper Handicap will be decided at 1 1/8 miles over the main track while the Grade 2 W.L. McKnight Handicap is scheduled to be run at 1 1/2 miles on the grass.

Despite the diverse nature of the two events, three horses were actually cross-nominated to both races, including the multiple graded stakes winner Mambo Meister. The others are Where’s Sterling and Shellback.

Mambo Meister has not started since finishing second, beaten a length by his nemesis Mad Flatter, in the Grade 3 Spend a Buck going 1 1/16 miles on the main track Oct. 15. Mad Flatter had also upset Mambo Meister in the 2010 edition of the event.

Mambo Meister has registered 11 career victories, eight on dirt and three over grass. But he has never been beyond the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Hooper.

“Right now we haven’t made a decision where to run,” said Phil Gleaves, who trains Mambo Meister for the Quantum Racing Team LLC. “At some point I would like to try him long on the grass. His pedigree says he can do that. For now we’re keeping our options open, we’ll take a look and see how both races are coming up before making the final choice. We have until Monday to decide.”

Mambo Meister has enjoyed another good year, having won 2 of 6 starts, both victories coming in overnight stakes here this past summer. His only poor performance came in the Grade 1 Woodward at Saratoga

Where’s Sterling is far less versatile than Mambo Meister, having finished off the board in his only start on grass but is a more proven commodity going a distance of ground. Trained by Nick Canani for owner Frank Calabrese, Where’s Sterling is coming off the two best races of his career, a victory in Monmouth Park’s Grade 3 Iselin and a second behind Headache in the Grade 2, 1 1/4-mile Hawthorne Gold Cup on Oct. 8.

“He’s a monster right now,” Calabrese said when asked about Where’s Sterling on Friday. “Although at the moment I think we might pass both races and wait for something over at Gulfstream.”

The Hooper appears to be coming up the easier of the two races, having drawn just 13 nominations, topped by Mambo Meister, Mad Flatter, and Turbo Compressor. Turbo Compressor and Mad Flatter are not expected to run, having just finished first and third respectively in the Carl G. Rose Classic here last weekend.

The McKnight attracted 19 nominations, including horses from the barns of northern-based trainers Christophe Clement (Mr. Ryder and Winchester); Roger Attfield (Musketier and Simmard); James Toner (Astral Thunder); Chad Brown (Center Divider), Brian Lynch (Gondorf); and Graham Motion (Sanagas).

Megalith, Close It Out rematched in sprint feature

Sunday’s nine-race program will be highlight by a second-level optional $25,000 claimer at 6 1/2 furlongs. The race drew a wide-open field of 10, topped by Megalith and Close It Out, who earlier this year finished second and third respectively behind the odds-on Indiano in the Unbridled Stakes. Other key contenders include Smart Kiddo, Clean Shot, and Asset Exchange.

Guests get to sample Gulfstream’s new cuisine

Gulfstream Park hosted a preview of the new fare that will be served in its main restaurant, now called the Ten Palms American Kitchen and Stone Crab Parlor, at a gala party that attracted more than 200 guests on Thursday. The affair was hosted by Gulfstream’s new head of food and beverage, celebrity chef Ralph Pagano.

“Our goal this meet is not only to offer the best food and beverage of any racetrack in the country but to offer the best food anywhere,” said Tim Ritvo, president and general manager of Gulfstream.