Mucho Macho Man and Ron the Greek, two of the leading older horses of 2012, embark on another title quest Jan. 19 when they face off in the $400,000 Florida Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park.
The 1 1/8-mile Classic tops the Sunshine Million card of six races for Florida-breds worth total purses of $1.3 million, and will be run with an approximate post time of 5:05 p.m. EST. It is the same race Mucho Macho Man used to launch his season last year while defeating Ron the Greek by 1 1/2 lengths, a campaign that came a half-length short of an Eclipse Award.
For Ron the Greek, the Eclipse Award for champion older male was his to lose at one point, following victories in the Santa Anita Handicap and Stephen Foster Handicap. But the son of Full Mandate lost his final three races, concluding with a fourth-place finish behind Fort Larned and Mucho Macho Man in the Breeders' Cup Classic, in which the two horses battled eyeball to eyeball the length of the stretch with Fort Larned winning by a half-length.
Mucho Macho Man had followed up his Sunshine Millions Classic victory with a two-length score in the Gulfstream Park Handicap. Two races later, he turned in a huge effort to win the Suburban Handicap, but was beaten a neck by To Honor and Serve in the Woodward Stakes prior to his BC Classic defeat.
The son of Macho Uno , trained by Kathy Ritvo, has been tearing up the Gulfstream track in preparation for his 2013 debut, working five furlongs in a bullet :58 3/5 Jan. 5, then breezing five panels in :59 3/5, second-fastest work at the distance Jan. 12.
"He came out of the Breeders' Cup Classic really, really well," Ritvo said. "He's older and stronger now than last year. He will be wearing blinkers [for the first time] to keep him a little more focused. He's been training great and loves this track. He'll stay on his usual schedule of racing about every two months. "
Mucho Macho Man, carrying 121 pounds, drew post 2 in the field of seven and will be ridden again by Hall of Famer Mike Smith. Ron the Greek, carrying top weight of 123 pounds, will break from post 5 under regular rider Jose Lezcano.
Ron the Greek, a stone closer trained by Bill Mott, needs a fast pace to keep Mucho Macho Man busy, and he could get help from I'm Steppin' It Up, a speedy son of Congrats who drew the rail, and Fort Loudon, a multiple stakes winner at Calder Casino & Race Course whose last two starts resulted in second-place finishes in the Ack Ack Handicap at Churchill Downs and the state-bred Sunshine State at Gulfstream Dec. 2.
"[Ron the Greek] seems to be doing well and he's healthy," Mott said. "We're taking on a top horse in Mucho Macho Man. He's been working very well and he's sharp, so we'll see what happens."
If there is anyone who can upset the two favorites, it likely is Cash Rules, who breaks from the outside under 121 pounds. The son of Peace Rules is coming off a third-place finish in the Harlan's Holiday at Gulfstream, but captured his previous four starts at Calder, including a victory in the Spend a Buck Stakes.
Rounding out the field are Decaf Again, who appears way overmatched, and the former Todd Pletcher-trained and Dogwood Stable-owned Atoned, who has gone through several trainer and owner changes. Now at age 8 has been running in $25,000 claiming races in recent times.