11/26/2010 3:52PM

Hooper a possible late-season target for St. Maximus Gato

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MIAMI – St. Maximus Gato has come a long ways in a short time. He may go even farther before the year is out if trainer Donald Hunt elects to run his still lightly raced 3-year-old in the Grade 3 Fred W. Hooper Jr. Handicap here at Calder on Dec. 11.

St. Maximus Gato did not begin his career until early this past summer, missing by a neck to the odds-on favorite Gaucho going seven furlongs when debuting locally on June 26. St. Maximus Gato, who is owned by Hunt’s brother Robert, an equine surgeon practicing out of Lexington, Ky., won his next two starts by a combined 19 lengths before heading north to embark on the stakes trail.

Hunt thought he found a nice spot for St. Maximus Gato’s stakes debut in the Grade 2 Indiana Derby at Hoosier Park, only to find himself up against no less an opponent than likely 3-year-old champion Lookin At Lucky. St. Maximus Gato finished third despite a wide trip in the Indiana Derby, then moved on to Hawthorne, where he was second, beaten a neck as the 4-5 favorite, four weeks later in the Bucks Boy Handicap for Illinois-breds.

“The original plan was to try something a little shorter and run him in the Kenny Noe Jr. Handicap next weekend but now that’s gone,” Hunt said referring to the seven-furlong, Grade 3 sprint that was canceled by track management earlier this month. “So now we’ll look at the next logical option, which is the Hooper. I’ll see how the nominations look and then make a decision. If I decide not to run him there, I’ll bring him back to the farm and wait for something after Gulfstream opens.”

St. Maximus Gato worked five furlongs here Friday in 1:02.03, according to Daily Racing Form, and galloped out six furlongs in 1:15.60.

“He’s really done well in a short time,” said Hunt. “He overcame a lot to go up there and run as well as he did against Lookin At Lucky. He’s got his own little issues, most of which are psychological. Hopefully they’ll go away as he matures, although they haven’t yet. He’s not the best shipper in the world but he seems to do well if I bring him down here ahead of time. He really likes it at Calder and likes this racetrack.”

Hunt, who is based in Ocala, generally sells most of the horses he runs at the track. St. Maximus Gato was an exception.

“We had offers but my brother didn’t want to sell him,” said Hunt. “He bought him as a youngster and I believe his sister is one of my brother’s broodmares. I know one thing. He’s definitely the best horse I’ve ever kept.”

Nominations for the 1 1/8-mile Hooper closed Saturday.

Coa, Alvarez win three apiece on Turkey Day

Eibar Coa and apprentice Jose Alvarez shared top honors on the Thanksgiving Day program, winning three races apiece on the 10-race card. Coa capped off his hat trick aboard trainer Ron Spatz’s promising 2-year-old Megalith, who captured the afternoon’s main event as a 3-5 favorite.

Coa was out of town to accept stakes engagements at Churchill Downs on Friday and Aqueduct on Saturday but will return Sunday and is named on Simply Impressive in the afternoon’s $29,000 feature, a second-level optional $25,000 claimer scheduled for 1 1/16 miles on turf. The race drew a field of nine, two of whom, Ashlee the Great and Genuine Diamond, were entered for dirt only.