FLORIDA SUNSHINE MILIONS CLASSIC | PURSE: $400,000 | 4-YEAR-OLDS & UP | 1 1/8 MILES
With little to contend with, Mucho Macho Man galloped to victory as he pleased by 14 lengths while opening his 2014 campaign in the $400,000 Florida Sunshine Millions Classic Jan. 18 at Gulfstream Park.
The 2013 Eclipse Award finalist for Horse of the Year and Outstanding Older Male posted his third consecutive victory since teamed with Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens by trainer Kathy Ritvo. The 6-year-old son of Macho Uno closed out the 2103 season with Grade 1 victories in the Awesome Again Stakes and Breeders' Cup Classic.
"It was good to have him back," Ritvo said of Mucho Macho Man. "We put him in because he was ready to run. It was fun."
It wasn't much of a field in the Sunshine Millions Classic, but the win was an emphatic one for owners Dean and Patti Reeves of Atlanta. They will find out later in the evening whether their star bay runner earned post-season honors. In the meantime, Mucho Macho Man demonstrated why he will be a force to contend with this year.
"We hoped he would run the way he did today," said Finn Green, manager for Reeves Thoroughbred Racing. "We didn't know he'd open up like that. It was the race to start back with. It was the perfect race to come back from the Breeders' Cup Classic, not because of the timing from the Breeders' Cup but for the next races."
Green said the Dubai World Cup and the Santa Anita Handicap are both options for Mucho Macho Man.
"They are two of the options," he said. "One of them is a little more conventional for us -- Santa Anita for the Big Cap. We'd have seven weeks to Santa Anita and 10 weeks to Dubai. We'd probably run in a race five weeks from now, if we were going to go to Dubai."
This was the third consecutive year that Mucho Macho Man began his season at his home track in the Sunshine Millions Classic for Florida-breds. He won the race in 2012 but did not finish last year when pulled up after giving way in sloppy conditions.
Six contested this year's renewal at 1 ⅛ miles on a fast track. Sent of at odds of 1-10, Mucho Macho Man broke alertly on the lead for Stevens before settling into second as second choice Bernie the Maestro grabbed the lead approaching the first turn. Bernie the Maestro, ridden by Joel Rosario, provided a solid pace for the opening half mile while opening up by about 2 ½ lengths with fractions of :23.08 seconds and :46.25 seconds.
Mucho Macho Man glided up to challenge on the outside as the leaders entered the turn, getting six furlongs in 1:10.52, and he quickly assumed command as Bernie the Maestro came under a ride to keep up. Mucho Macho Man was in complete control at the top of the lane and he came home with Stevens sitting cooly for a truly dominant victory. The final time was 1:48.76, a little more than a second off the track record.
"I actually felt more pressure today than I did in the Breeders' Cup Classic," noted Stevens, who was riding at Gulfstream Park for the first time in 12 years. "On paper, they can't get beat, but they all can get beat. Kathy had him spot on for what we needed today. I suppose it was more like a workout than a race. He won very, very easy. He ran fast, and I geared him down at the end and tried not to overdo it."
Mucho Macho Man provided Stevens with his only win from six mounts on the day.
"The thing they told me -- Kathy and Finn -- is, 'We don't need to put on a show today. Don't show him off.' And he kind of did anyway, on his own," Stevens added. "But there was no intention of trying to embarrass anybody. It was nice to have people show up to run against him today. It was a huge effort from him -- an easy effort, but huge at the same time."
Earning an easy $240,000 for his ninth lifetime win in 24 starts, Mucho Macho Man boosted his career purse total to $5,580,410. John and Carole Rio bred the strapping bay out of the Ponche mare Ponche de Leona.
Winning for the third time in five tries over the Gulfstream main track, Mucho Macho Man carried top weight of 123 pounds and paid $2.20, $2.10, and $2.10. Joshua's Comprise ($13.60, $6), with Francisco Maysonett aboard, ran on for second with Decaf Again ($6.20) and Carlos Olivero 1 ¾ lengths farther back in third.
The runner-up and third-place finisher are both trained by Barry Rose for the Rose Family Stable.
"We didn't know that we could beat [Mucho Macho Man], but we knew we were going to be there as long as somebody went with him," Rose said. "The race set up perfectly for my two to just come off the pace, and they just love to run. It's nice that I got two of them actually running the way they're supposed to. That's a win for us."
Bernie the Maestro faded to fourth, followed by Gourmet Dinner and Rule Number Six.