03/12/2016 7:34PM

Salutos Amigos comes flying in stretch to repeat in Tom Fool

Joe Labozzetta/NYRA
Salutos Amigos goes from last of 11 to first under Cornelio Velasquez in the Tom Fool Handicap.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - There’s no place like home for Salutos Amigos.

Back in New York for the first time since last fall, Salutos Amigos made an eye-catching last-to-first move in a field of 11 under Cornelio Velasquez to win Saturday’s Grade 3, $200,000 Tom Fool Handicap for the second straight year.

Salutos Amigos defeated Always Sunshine by 2 1/2 lengths. It was 1 3/4 lengths back to Stallwalkin’ Dude, who, like Salutos Amigos, is trained by David Jacobson, in third. Mewannarose was fourth followed, in order, by Nubin Ridge, Spartiatis, Loki’s Vengeance, Angry Moon, Dads Caps, Alex the Terror, and Waco.

The win was the 11th from 37 starts for Salutos Amigos, nine of those wins coming in New York. He is 4 for 4 - all stakes - over the inner track. Salutos Amigos joined Rise Jim (1981-82), Groovy (1986-87), and Calibrachoa (2011-12) as repeat winners of the Tom Fool.

Salutos Amigos had made his last two starts in Southern California, finishing second in a pair of graded stakes at Santa Anita. In those races, he was kept a little closer to the pace, which may have compromised his losing kick.

Saturday, despite a bulky 11-horse field, Jacobson instructed Velasquez to take the horse back and make one run.

Salutos Amigos, the 122-pound highweight breaking from post 9, was about 10 lengths off the pace as Dads Caps ran an opening quarter in 22.36 seconds with Mewannarose and Waco pressing him.

Salutos Amigos was still nine lengths back coming to the quarter pole, and then Velasquez had to take Salutos Amigos extremely wide into the stretch.

“I tried not to go too wide but I didn’t have much choice. A lot of horses were stopping at the quarter pole so I had to go outside,” Velasquez said.

Stallwalkin’ Dude, under Manny Franco, got first run on his stablemate and made the lead outside the eighth pole.

But Salutos Amigos had clear sailing in the stretch while in the middle of the track and powered past Stallwalkin’ Dude and Always Sunshine, who had split horses in midstretch, to get the victory.

Salutos Amigos, a 6-year-old gelding by Salute the Sarge, covered the six furlongs in 1:10.17 and returned $4.80 as the favorite.

Of the plan to take Salutos Amigos back, Jacobson said, “I’m never comfortable but it was the plan. He was too close in California and he just didn’t have that kick like we saw today and we saw last year.”

Last year, after Salutos Amigos won the Tom Fool, he went to Dubai to run in the $2 million Golden Shaheen, where he finished eighth, beaten 5 1/2 lengths. Salutos Amigos is nominated to this year’s Golden Shaheen, run March 26 at Meydan, and Jacobson will discuss with co-owner Mike Moreno the possibility of running in that race again.

Jacobson was happy with the performance of Stallwalkin’ Dude, who was making his first start since running well-beaten fifth to X Y Jet in the Grade 3 Mr. Prospector at Gulfstream on Dec. 19.

“He ran a big race too off the bench,” Jacobson said. “He’s going to definitely improve off of this race big time.”

Always Sunshine, under Frankie Pennington, was always looking for a spot to run in the stretch. He finally got through in deep stretch but he could not match strides with Salutos Amigos.

“If we had an outside post and a clear shot it would have been a closer horse race,” trainer Ned Allard said.