11/24/2012 5:58PM

Calder: Twilight Eclipse handles distance, elders in McKnight

Coady Photography
Twilight Eclipse, with Manoel Cruz up, wins the Grade 2 W.L. McKnight Handicap by 1 3/4 lengths.

MIAMI – Twilight Eclipse and Mucho Mas Macho were not only the lone 3-year-olds in the field for Saturday’s $150,000 W.L. McKnight Handicap at Calder, they were the only two members of the lineup who had never tried the 1 1/2-mile distance of the Grade 2 event.  But neither factor mattered much in the end.

Despite drifting nearing the wire, Twilight Eclipse registered a relatively easy 1 3/4-length triumph over the 39-1 Mucho Mas Macho, with Vertiformer, another longshot at 11-1, finishing three parts of a length further back in third. Ioya Bigtime controlled the pace to the eighth pole before fading to finish fourth as the 3-2 favorite in a scratch-reduced field of eight.

Twilight Eclipse, a son of Purim owned by West Point Thoroughbreds and trained by Tom Albertrani, paid $24.80.

Twilight Eclipse benefitted from a well-judged ride by Manoel Cruz, a late replacement for Julio Garcia who was listed to ride the New York invader on the program.  Twilight Eclipse raced in closest attendance of the leader, eased out to challenge upon entering the stretch the final time, assumed command leaving the eighth pole, and then edged clear while drifting to the middle of the course approaching the wire.
Mucho Mas Macho also saved ground into the stretch, loomed boldly after easing out for the drive, but could not match strides with the winner while carried out by that rival inside the sixteenth pole.

“I wasn’t totally surprised that he won,” said Albertrani who watched the race from New York. “What I was looking forward to today was watching him run a mile and one half because in his last few races he looked like a horse that really wanted to go longer and finish up at the end.”

Albertrani said Twilight Eclipse, who was purchased privately by West Point after winning his first two starts at Indiana Downs, would likely be freshened up over the next several weeks at Palm Meadows and be pointed to the longer races this winter at Gulfstream Park, including the Grade 2 Pan American at 1 1/2 miles on March 23.

Hooper: Casaba, Ducduc finish in dead heat

The photo-finish camera could not separate the 1-5 Csaba and second-choice Ducduc who dead-heated for win in the $100,000 Fred Hooper Jr. Handicap.

Csaba, a 14-length winner of the Tropical Park Derby in his previous start, set a contested pace from the deeper going along the rail, shaking off a couple of early challenges, including one from Ducduc’s uncoupled stablemate Fair Whit leaving the final turn. Csaba then dug in gamely while drifting slightly off the rail in late stretch, holding on determinedly to earn the dead heat.

Ducduc, pinched back to last at the break, unleashed a steady run leaving the backstretch, bumped briefly with his mate at the top of the stretch, and caught Csaba in the final stride.

Fair Whit finished another 7 1/4 lengths further back in third.

The winning pair completed 1 1/8 miles in 1:52.93 over a fast track.

Csaba paid $2.10 to win, while Ducduc returned $2.60.