Maters N Taters has long been a fan favorite because of his name. He got a little more popular with an upset victory in the 18th running of the $75,000 William Henry Harrison Stakes at Indiana Grand.
Maters N Taters has tactical speed. The question was whether he could clear the front out of the gate from an outside post in the six-furlong event. The four-year-old Indiana sired son of Santiva quickly put those questions to rest as jockey Eddie Perez had him on the lead just a few steps out of the gate.
Oscar PQ and Alex Achard went with the leader early from the inside, but by the turn, he backed off as Maters N Taters crossed over to the rail to lead the way.
Around the turn, the field began to bunch up as they prepared to show their best stride in the stretch. Race favorite Double Tuff and Jesus Castanon led the pack behind Maters N Taters, but could not gain any ground on the leader.
Late in the race, it was clear Maters N Taters would be victorious over the sloppy surface, scoring the win by two lengths in a time of 1:09.78. Double Tuff finished second over Stop Hammertime and Joe Ramos for third.
Maters N Taters paid $44.20 and gave trainer Anthony Cunningham and owner Salvador Villalobos their first career Thoroughbred stakes win. The pair are prevalent in Quarter Horse racing in Indiana with Villalobos serving as Cunningham’s assistant trainer in the powerhouse barn of Indiana Quarter Horses.
“We bought this horse and one other Thoroughbred and a Quarter Horse off of Ron Brown last year when he said he was retiring,” explained Cunningham. “Sal (Villalobos) deserves all the credit with this horse. He has done all the work with him.”
Villalobos has worked for Cunningham for the past 10 years. Each winter, he returns to Mexico to spend time with family before rejoining Cunningham at Indiana Grand for the racing season.
Cunningham, who hails from Michigan and has a farm there, travels back and forth between two destinations and relies heavily on Villalobos for his expertise in the shed row at Indiana Grand.
“This particular horse stays here,” added Cunningham. “He has a little attitude and can be tough to be around at times. Sal has done a great job with him.”
The game plan as a long shot in the race worked out as planned. With early speed, Perez and Cunningham decided early on that would be their strategy.
“The plan was to make the lead and they let me take the lead easy today,” said Perez. “He’s got tactical speed and we wanted to use that to his advantage.”
It also was tactical to utilize Perez aboard Maters N Taters. Perez, a multiple Graded Stakes winning jockey with more than 2,500 career wins, knows the horse well and knows how to ride him.
“Eddie (Perez) had ridden this horse for a long time for Ron (Brown),” explained Cunningham. “That’s why we put him up.”
Maters N Taters is nearing $200,000 in career earnings. It was his fourth career win and his second stakes victory, scoring a win in the $100,000 Crown Ambassador Stakes as a two-year-old for Brown. Perez has been aboard for all four of his career wins in 18 outings.
Cunningham is currently ranked second in the leading Quarter Horse trainer standings yet again in 2021. Although he does have a few Thoroughbreds in his barn and had dabbled in Thoroughbreds in recent years, his main focus is on Quarter Horses.
“It’s a big deal to me to win a Thoroughbred stakes races because it is hard to do,” said Cunningham. “Thoroughbreds are a whole different ball game. I’m just fortunate I have a good horse and a great team behind me. Everyone worked hard to get this horse here today.”