Heavily Favored Performer Edges Eye Of A Jedi In Fred W. Hooper

Phipps Stable and Claiborne Farm’s Performer returned to winning form in Saturday’s $125,000 Fred W. Hooper (G3) at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla., rebounding from a third-place finish that had snapped a five-race winning streak.

The Hooper, a mile event for 4-year-olds and up, was the first of seven stakes on Saturday’s program that was headlined by the $3-million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) and the $1-million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1).

Performer, who had finished third over a sloppy Aqueduct track in the Cigar Mile (G1) in his previous start, had to work for his second career graded-stakes victory. Sent to post as the 4-5 favorite in a field of eight, the Shug McGaughey-trained 5-year-old broke from the rail post position, but jockey Joel Rosario deftly eased the son of Speightstown off the rail while chasing Shivaree and Dream Maker as they dueled along the backstretch during a 23.20-second first quarter of a mile. Performer advanced on the tiring pacesetters on the turn into the homestretch with an outside run as Eye of the Jedi split horses to his inside to take a narrow lead into the stretch.

Eye of a Jedi put up a battle to the wire under Marcos Meneses but was unable to hold off the favorite, who prevailed by a neck. Avant Garde closed from last to finish third, 1 ½ lengths farther back.

Performer ran a mile in 1:35.49

Fred W. Hooper (G3) Quotes

Winning Trainer Shug McGaughey (Performer): “It looked like [he broke a step slow} but he got him in the right spot. He did say, ‘I’ve got to go along. I’m looking at the two horses on the lead and they’re going along pretty easy too. I better get busy here.’ I was glad when he got him to the outside. He looked like he wanted to hang with that horse on the lead a little bit, but he was able to finish up.”

“That’s way was in my mind, the Gulfstream Mile [Feb. 27], but after watching him today, I might be looking for something to stretch him out around two turns.”

Winning Jockey Joel Rosario (Performer): “He broke well and it really looked like [Shivaree] was going to take the lead and the other horse on the outside, so I kind of just let him be in that spot. I didn’t want to fall too far back but be there in the race, because he broke good and he got the job done. He’s a nice horse.”

“The other horse ran good, he was right there. For a second, I thought he was going to come back and beat me but my horse kept fighting, and all the credit to him.”

“It feels good to be back, even for one day. I’m glad to be here.”

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