02/05/2015 12:33PM

Fred Hooper Stakes tough puzzle for handicappers

Barbara D. Livingston
Race Day (left) breezed four furlongs with Protonico on Sunday in preparation for the Fred W. Hooper.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Handicappers are in for a real challenge trying to sort out the 12 scheduled starters in Saturday’s $100,000 Fred W. Hooper Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

Topping the wide-open field in the Grade 3 Hooper are likely favorites Confrontation and Race Day.

Confrontation is coming off a game second-place finish behind Lea, the defending Donn Handicap champion, in the one-mile Hal’s Hope here last month, rallying from last at the head of the lane to take the lead at midstretch before losing by a half-length.

“It’s back a little sooner than I wanted, but he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do,” said Confrontation’s trainer, Barclay Tagg. “The race has come up pretty tough, but I think he’ll run his race.”

:: DONN HANDICAP: Get PPs, watch Saturday’s card live

Race Day earned a career- and field-best 109 Beyer Speed Figure in cruising to an 8 1/2-length win in a second-level optional $62,500 claiming race going a mile here Dec. 21, his first start since joining trainer Todd Pletcher’s barn the previous month.

:: DRF Live: Get real-time updates and insights from DRF reporters and handicappers on Saturday

“He certainly ran a stakes-caliber race,” said Pletcher. “It’s a step up, so we’ll see how he handles the move into stakes competition.”

Other key contenders in the one-mile Hooper include Grade 2 winners Alpha Bettor and Valid; Grande Shores, who has not finished worse than second in his last 12 starts; Mosler, who returns to dirt after finishing sixth in the Grade 2 Fort Lauderdale; Purple Egg and Midnight Cello, who finished one-two in a well-graded optional $100,000 claiming race Dec. 26; and Ulanbator and Looking Cool, who finished heads apart while upsetting the odds-on Commissioner under second-level optional $62,500 claiming conditions Jan. 10.

Fred W. Hooper, race 11


Confrontation (Last 3 Beyers: 106-99-73)

◗ He has finished off the board just once in 10 starts, the lone blemish on his record a ninth-place finish in the Grade 1 Forego.

◗He reunites with jockey Rajiv Maragh, who has been aboard for all five of Confrontation’s victories.

Race Day (Last 3 Beyers: 109-86-83)

◗He’s 2 for 2 in one-turn miles, having won his entry-level allowance condition at Churchill Downs prior to freaking to a career-best Beyer here in his 2014 finale.

Alpha Bettor (Last 3 Beyers: 85-81-87)

◗He must step up from a Beyer standpoint to compete with many others in this lineup, although he hails from one of the hottest barns at the track; trainer Danny Vella has gone 4 for 8 at this meet.

Valid (Last 3 Beyers: 104-111-101)

◗Has posted triple-digit Beyers in seven of his last eight starts.

◗Switches to a new rider, Paco Lopez, who has won with 24 percent of the 66 horses he has ridden for trainer Marcus Vitali over the past five years, for a return on investment of $2.98.