Confrontation Set To Tackle $100,000 Fred W. Hooper Stakes

December 10, 2019

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Eric Dattner and Harry Astarita’s Confrontation began his career in the absence of lofty expectations from his trainer, Barclay Tagg, who chose a $50,000 claiming race for the son of War Pass’s debut.

Confrontation romped to a 7 ¼-length victory at Saratoga on Aug. 1, 2013, and the Kentucky-bred gelding has continued to be a source of surprise for his trainer every since his sparkling debut.

“Everything he's done has been a surprise. We never expected that much from him. We didn't pay that much for him, and we just didn't have great expectations,” Tagg said. “He's a funny little mover, but when goes out there and runs, he runs. Everything he's done has been a complete surprise and a good surprise. That's the best way to have it.”

Confrontation, who has finished out of the money only once in 10 lifetime races, looms as a strong contender in Saturday’s $100,000 Fred W. Hooper (G3) at Gulfstream after finishing a close second in the Hal’s Hope (G3) on Jan. 10. The 5-year-old gelding made a sweeping move to the lead in the one-turn Hal’s Hope only to be caught late by Lea, who is scheduled to run in Saturday’s $500,000 Donn Handicap, one of six stakes on Gulfstream’s 13-race program.

Rajiv Maragh, who was Confrontation’s regular rider before being sidelined by injury last summer, will return aboard the five-time winner in the one-mile, one-turn Hooper, replacing Joe Bravo, who rode him in back-to-back second-place finishes in the Bold Ruler (G3) at Belmont and the Hal’s Hope.

“I thought he ran very well (in the Hal's Hope). Nothing against Joey, but I put Rajiv back on for this race,” Tagg said. “He's had five wins and a second in six rides on him, so the owner wanted to put him on there, and I couldn't blame him.”

Confrontation’s only off-the-board finish came in a ninth-place finish in the Forego (G1) at Saratoga in August.

“He's done everything we've asked him to do. I think the race is going to come up pretty tough, but I think he'll run his race, I hope,” Tagg said. “It's back a little bit sooner than I wanted to run him back, but it was either go in a supposedly easier stake or a really hard stake a few more weeks away. He was doing really well and kicking the barn down, so I thought we'd put him in this one.”

The Hooper marks the stakes debut of Matthew Schera’s Race Day, who is riding a three-race winning streak. Purchased by Schera for $285,000 at the Keeneland November sale after a first-level allowance victory for trainer Kellyn Gorder at Churchill Downs on Nov. 2, Race Day debuted for trainer Todd Pletcher with a 8 ½-length victory in a second-level optional claiming allowance at Gulfstream on Dec. 21.

“We got him after the November sale and he has trained very well. We were very impressed with his two-other-than (optional claiming allowance) and it seemed like he ran a big race in the one-turn mile,” Pletcher said. “It’s a step up into this race, so we’ll see how he handles the move into stakes competition. He certainly ran a stakes-caliber race last time, so we look forward to the Hooper.”

John Velazquez has the return mount Saturday.

Jacks or Better Farm’s Grande Shores is scheduled to make his graded-stakes debut in the Hooper after finishing no worse than second in 12 consecutive races.

“They always say that quality horses’ form cycles don’t vary much. With cheaper horses, you never know who’s going to pop up and win, but good horses maintain their form,” trainer Stanley Gold said. “He’s been maintaining his form. Soundness has a lot to do with it. He’s sound; he’s durable; he’s happy.”

Grande Shores, a half-brother to multiple graded-stakes winner Jackson Bend, achieved his recent string of sharp performances at distances from 6 to 7 furlongs.

“I’m not worried about the mile. It’s one turn, as long as it’s one turn, it should be just fine for him,” said Gold, who awarded Edgard Zayas with the return mount aboard Grande Shores.

Crossed Sabres Farm’s Valid, who captured the Monmouth Cup (G2) last summer, prepped for the Hooper with a fourth-place finish in the Hal’s Hope, in which he finished 1 ¾ lengths behind Lea and 1 ¼ lengths behind Confrontation.

“He seems like an every-other-race horse. He got beat a length and three-quarters last time, but I think he ran a huge race,” said trainer Vitali, who name Paco Lopez to ride the 5-year-old gelding. “I think the one-turn mile will suit him. He loves this track.”

Adele Dilschneider’s Mosler, who faded to sixth in the Fort Lauderdale (G2) while racing on turf for the first time, is set for a return to dirt in the Hooper. The Bill Mott-trained 4-year-old colt had previously won three of six starts on dirt. Joel Rosario has the mount aboard the son of War Front.

MarchFore Thoroughbreds’ Adirondack King, a 10-length victory in a Parx stakes on Dec. 30, and Cary Grosberg’s Alpha Bettor, a Grade 2 winner in Canada, were also entered for the Hooper, as were recent Gulfstream optional claiming allowance winners, Mary Ann Charlston’s Ulanbator and Goodwood Racing II’s Purple Egg.

Brothersofthetime, Midnight Cello and Looking Cool round out the field.

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