Gulfstream Park News & Notes
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL - It was the winter of 2012 when Nick Petro, Jr. first climbed aboard a towering son of Macho Uno in the weeks leading up to the Sunshine Millions Classic. He has been there ever since.
Petro, 29, is the regular exercise rider for Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Mucho Macho Man, who won the Sunshine Millions Classic in 2012 and would go on to end 2013 with a pair of Grade 1 victories, including the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita.
Trained by Petro’s aunt, Kathy Ritvo, Mucho Macho Man will make his 2014 debut as both the betting and fan favorite against five challengers in the $400,000 Sunshine Millions Classic on Saturday. The Horse of the Year finalist schooled in Gulfstream's paddock during Thursday's first race.
“He’s been doing great,” Petro said. “He couldn’t be doing any better. He’s been much better than last year. After winning the Breeders’ Cup, he’s got a lot more confidence out of it. I think he’s doing much better this year.”
Though he has been ridden by nine jockeys in his career, including three Hall of Famers, no one has been on Mucho Macho Man more than Petro, whose father, Nick, has 1,852 career wins as a jockey since 1982. The younger Petro had a brief turn as a jockey himself, going winless in 14 lifetime mounts, 12 of them in 2008. He began working for his uncle, Michael Petro, in Delaware before joining forces with Ritvo and Mucho Macho Man.
“I’ve always been working for family. It’s a good thing to be around,” Petro said. “Everybody takes care of you. Nobody’s out to hurt anybody.”
Friendly and easy-going by nature, Petro is all business when it comes to Mucho Macho Man and takes great pride in his role with the multiple stakes winner.
“The best way to explain him is like it’s driving a car. You can drive a nice car slow, but you know you’ve got a ton of gas underneath you,” Petro said. “That’s basically what it is. You’ve got your feel on the dashboard the whole time. He’s like a train.
“Of course, it’s a big responsibility but I think it’s a big advantage, too. One person can know one horse a lot better than a few people getting on him. I know him better than I know any horse that I’ve ever been on before. It’s a good thing to have that kind of knowledge with him.”
Petro knows first-hand how Mucho Macho Man has the personality to match his talent.
“He’s a funny horse,” he said. “When he sees a horse he doesn’t know, he’ll mess with him and try to scare him but he’s been out there with Groupie Doll and Royal Delta. When he sees a nice mare like that, he behaves himself. He stands right next to them and minds his own business. He’s really funny. He knows what he can get away with and what he can’t.”
When Mucho Macho Man went out to California to win both the Awesome again and the Breeders' Cup Classic, Petro was part of the group that accompanied him. The previous year, Mucho Macho Man ran second by a half-length to Fort Larned in the Classic.
“I still don’t know what it feels like [to win the Classic]. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it, if you want the truth,” Petro said. “It’s crazy; it’s pretty amazing if you think about all the great horses that have done it, and just to be a part of it. “It was redemption, too, coming back from being second the year before. If we had run second by a nose this year, it would have been terrible. It was nice to come back and get the job done.”
Gourmet Dinner Works For Classic
Gourmet Dinner, one of five horses set to challenge Florida-bred fan favorite Mucho Macho Man in Saturday’s $400,000 Sunshine Millions Classic, blew out three furlongs on Gulfstream Park’s main track Thursday morning.
Trainer Bob Triola sent the 6-year-old son of Trippi out shortly after the second renovation break ended at 9 a.m. His wife and assistant, Nancy, was aboard for the move.
“He’s good. He just went an easy three-eighths of a mile to open his head up and let him stretch his legs a little bit,” Triola said. “He blows out before every race, just to take the edge off him. He’s a good-feeling horse and he’s in really good form right now.”
Gourmet Dinner has one win and three thirds in his last four starts since late September, most recently finishing fifth in the Broad Brush Stakes at Laurel Park on Dec. 7.
“Really, his last four races he could have won them all,” Triola said. “He was down inside at Parx two races back and nobody wins on the inside at Parx. In the stakes, the winner got away with an easy lead and he had no kind of a pace to run at.”
Based with Triola at the Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland, Gourmet Dinner is the only other graded stakes winner in the Sunshine Millions Classic besides Mucho Macho Man, who he beat in their only two head-to-head meetings in 2010 and 2011.
“He’s been very comfortable here. He’s run well over the racetrack, and he’s good. He’s ready to go,” Triola said. “Don’t get me wrong; we’re not delusional thinking we’re here to beat this horse. But it’s a lot of money and it’s a restricted race. The opportunity is there. He’s ready to run, so what the hell. We’ll take a shot. For everybody involved, it’s the right thing to do.”
Triola and Gourmet Dinner got reacquainted with the Kathy Ritvo-trained Mucho Macho Man when the Breeders’ Cup Classic winner recuperated from a viral infection at Fair Hill .
“We’ve been around a long time and we know him. He was up with us in the spring,” Triola said. “He’s a beautiful horse, and she’s (trainer Kathy Ritvo) has done a fantastic job. To be second to him would be no disgrace.”
Triola is no stranger to stranger to South Florida having run horses here in the 1980s, and still owns the condo he bought near Gulfstream in 1981. Among his most notable horses were Lover’s Trust, a multiple stakes winner he also bred in Florida who finished fourth in the Flamingo (G1) at Hialeah in 1988, and Dancin Renee, a multiple stakes winner who went 14-for-21 lifetime including the Honorable Miss (G3) at Saratoga in 1997.
“It’s been a while. I’ll be walking around and people see me and say, ‘Where have you been?' ” Triola said. “It’s good to be back.”
Dilger Points Our Caravan To Holy Bull
Our Caravan, a $73.80 winner in his Dec. 14 unveiling at Gulfstream Park, will make his next start in the $400,000 Holy Bull (G2).
Trainer Michael Dilger is pointing the bay Daaher colt to the 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull for 3-year-olds, to be run on Jan. 25.
“We got him back here after the race, checked him out and made sure he was OK,” Dilger said. “We had a look at the condition book and saw what our options were and decided for $400,000, he’s a course and distance winner so let’s give it a shot and see what happens.”
Owned by Anstu Stable, Our Caravan settled in mid-pack in his debut before rocketing down the stretch and pulling clear to a three-length win at odds of 35-1, running 8 ½ furlongs in 1:44.73.
“He’s a nice horse and we’ve always liked him,” Dilger said. “We always knew he was going to be a two-turn horse. There was a lot of speed in the race that day and it sort of stopped in front of him, but we were expecting him to run well, for sure.”
Our Caravan had his second work back since the race on Jan. 12, going five furlongs in 1:01.25 at Palm Meadows. He will be giving up some seasoning in the Holy Bull, which is expected to draw Grade 2 winner Cairo Prince, Grade 3 Dania Beach winner Mr. Speaker and General a Rod and Wildcat Red, who ran 1-2 in the Gulfstream Park Derby on Jan. 1.
“Obviously he lacks experience, but by the same token we’ve had him in training for quite a while,” Dilger said. “He’s not a green horse; he just lacks that racetrack experience. He’s running against some pretty nice horses that have already proven themselves to be stakes caliber, so those are the two main concerns.”
Dilger hasn’t ruled out the $100,000 Kitten’s Joy on the Gulfstream turf Jan. 19 for Nowhere to Run, who went gate to wire to break his maiden at odds of 33-1 on Dec. 7.
Meanwhile, Grade 2 winner Wired Bryan continues to work toward his 3-year-old debut. Also owned by Anstu, the Stormy Atlantic colt most recently won the Bertram Bongard at Belmont Park on Oct. 19.
“He’s training at the moment,” Dilger said. “He should hit the work tab here shortly. We gave him some time off after his last race and are just getting him back into the swing of things. We’ll take it as we find it; no firm plans yet.”