OZONE PARK, N.Y. -- While the majority of high-profile horses are headed for a vacation, one significant player from earlier in the year is heading back to the races.
Mucho Macho Man, the third-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby and one of just three horses to compete in all three Triple Crown races this spring, returns Wednesday in a one-mile allowance race at Aqueduct. Mucho Macho Man qualifies under the "never won three races" condition of the race, which is also for horses being offered for a $35,000 claiming price.
The race will go as the third on a nine-race program that begins at 12:20 p.m. It will not be part of the pick six, which begins the day with a carryover of $25,397 and starts with race four.
Mucho Macho Man won the Risen Star and finished third, beaten less than one length, in the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds earlier this year. He was sent off the 9-1 fourth choice in the Kentucky Derby, where he finished third, three lengths behind Animal Kingdom.
After running sixth in the Preakness, Mucho Macho Man finished seventh in the Belmont. Noting that his actual third birthday came after the Belmont, trainer Kathy Ritvo said that Mucho Macho Man was given time off to allow himself to mature.
"I think he's grown a lot and put on muscle," Ritvo said. "He's still a smart horse, very level-headed. I think he's ready to get back to the races."
After an illness kept him off the work tab for a month in the fall, Mucho Macho Man has come back with five solid breezes that Ritvo believes has the colt fit to run a mile around one turn.
"His consistent breezes are really encouraging," Ritvo said. "I think it's a great distance to start at. He likes the track, I'm looking forward to him getting back."
As a 2-year-old, Mucho Macho Man finished second behind To Honor and Serve in both the Nashua and Remsen at Aqueduct.
Southern Ridge and Gallant Fields look like the biggest threats to spoil Mucho Macho Man's return. Both horses could be forwardly placed in the early stages of the race.
Southern Ridge was purchased privately by Paul Pompa Jr. following the colt's runner-up finish in the Grade 3 Philip Iselin Stakes at Monmouth in August. He was turned over to trainer Todd Pletcher.
"He might be a horse best suited for two turns," Pletcher said. "For us, so far he seems to be very handy in all of his training."
Gallant Fields, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, has not run since winning a first-level allowance race by 8 1/4 lengths going seven furlongs in the slop on closing day at Saratoga.
"That was kind of a 'wow' race," trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. "That's one reason we gave him plenty of time since he ran. Maybe it was the slop on the day; we won't be able to answer that for another race or two. He's doing well. He fits in there."
Mineswept and More Than a Reason are both in for the $35,000 claiming tag. Silent Money and Praetereo complete the field.