02/06/2016 3:48PM

Tommy Macho scores in Fred W. Hooper Stakes

Barbara D. Livingston
Tommy Macho, ridden by Luis Saez, wins the Grade 3 Fred W. Hooper Handicap by 3 3/4 lengths Saturday.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – The late decision by trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Paul Pompa Jr. this week to bypass the nine-furlong Donn Handicap for the one-mile Fred W. Hooper Stakes paid big dividends for Tommy Macho, who drew off to a convincing 3 3/4-length victory over stablemate Stanford in the Grade 3 test for older horses Saturday at Gulfstream Park.

Tommy Macho broke a bit slowly and got shuffled back during the opening quarter-mile of the $100,000 Fred Hooper. But once eased out into the clear by jockey Luis Saez, the son of Macho Uno accelerated sharply, quickly picking up the leaders while moving in tandem outside of Stanford approaching the stretch.

Tommy Macho, who won the Grade 3 Discovery Handicap in November, finally asserted his superiority by readily pulling well clear through the final furlong Saturday. The winner’s final time of 1:33.53 was just 0.40 seconds off the track record set by Normandy Invasion two years ago.

Stanford, who like Tommy Macho was a late addition to the field, proved no match for the winner but easily proved second-best, finishing six lengths in front of Grande Shores. Ami’s Flatter, the surprising 6-5 favorite coming off an allowance win here less than four weeks ago, retired early, finishing a well-beaten fifth in a field of eight.

Tommy Macho paid $9.

“He got away in a little bit of a tangle and was further back than I thought he would be,” said Pletcher. “He put in a beautiful run on the turn and ran well.”

Pletcher said Tommy Macho’s huge performance in the Hooper gives him a lot of options down the road.

“It puts us in a position where we have a lot of options, the [Grade 2] Gulfstream Park Handicap [on March 5] being one of them,” said Pletcher. “We think he’s proven he’s effective at a mile to a mile and an eighth. We like what he’s done since he’s been down here this winter. He mentally matured a bit, behaved well in the paddock, gained weight, and has kind of filled out into a nice 4-year-old.”

Pletcher was equally thrilled with Stanford’s effort, which came in his first start since the Curlin Stakes at Saratoga more than six months ago.

“I thought considering the big layoff, Stanford ran well,” said Pletcher. “He’s been training like he was going to run well, and he did.”