HALLANDALE BEACH, FL– Florida-bred fan favorite Mucho Macho Man will begin his 6-year-old season in the $400,000 Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 18.
Winner of the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) and an Eclipse Award finalist for both Horse of the Year and Champion Older Male, Mucho Macho Man is stabled with trainer Kathy Ritvo at Gulfstream.
He has had five works over the track since the Breeders’ Cup Classic, including a half-mile breeze in 47.77 seconds on Jan. 4. He is expected to work again Saturday morning.
“We’re going to go in the Sunshine Millions,” Ritvo, who trains the son of Macho Uno for owners Dean and Patti Reeves, said Friday. “He’s doing great in his training. He’s been working really well, and it’s good timing. It keeps him here, and it gives us some options after we come out of here.”
Run at 1 1/8 miles, the Classic caps the six-race, $1.3 million Sunshine Millions program, which serves as a prelude to the 43rd annual Eclipse Awards to be held at Gulfstream later in the evening.
Mucho Macho Man used the Classic to open his campaign in each of the past two years, winning in 2012 and being pulled up in 2013 over a sloppy, sealed main track.
“I think it’s the right spot, as long as it’s dry,” Ritvo said. “He’s doing great. He started off [last year] slow, but he won the biggest race of the year.”
Mucho Macho Man won both the Awesome Again (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita to end his 4-year-old season. He has eight wins and more than $5.3 million in earnings from 23 lifetime starts.
In December, Mucho Macho Man was named winner of the fourth annual Secretariat Vox Populi, or “Voice of the People,” Award, recognizing the horse whose popularity and racing excellence best resonated with the American public and gained recognition for Thoroughbred racing.
As part of the coast-to-coast Vox Populi ceremony, Ritvo will sign posters of Mucho Macho Man from 11 a.m. to noon in the breezeway.
Getting closer:Jockey Luis Saez captured the opener on Friday with Capriccio Blue ($5.60), his 998th career victory.
Saez, 21, is named in nine of 10 races on Saturday, including Tetradrachm in the $200,000 Fort Lauderdale (G2) and Lea in the $100,000 Hal’s Hope (G3). He currently ranks third at the Champions meet with 16 wins.
A native of Panama, Saez came to the U.S. in 2009 and was an Eclipse Award finalist for top apprentice. He was fourth last winter at Gulfstream with 68 wins and $2.7 million in purses.
“I have to thank God,” Saez said. “The others and trainers give me the opportunity these three or four years here. I feel so excited because I’m close to 1,000 races. It feels amazing.”
‘Sky’ is the limit:Two horses who hooked up in last year’s Kentucky Derby (G1) will face each other for the first time since in Saturday’s second race, a one-mile optional claiming allowance on the main track.
The biggest name is Revolutionary, a multiple graded stakes winner who was third in the Derby and given the year off after running fifth in June’s Belmont Stakes (G1).
Trainer George Weaver will challenge the expected favorite with Falling Sky, a 4-year-old bay son of Lion Heart who chased a fast pace in the Derby before fading to last for previous trainer John Terranova.
Falling Sky was purchased by Newtown Anner Stud, James Covello and Joseph Bulger after an optional claiming allowance win at Gulfstream Park in mid-December 2012. He won the Grade 2 Sam F. Davis (G3), was third in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and fourth, beaten five lengths, in the Arkansas Derby (G1) on the 2013 Derby trail.
“They bought the horse with the intention of going to the Derby, and the horse ran great for them. He won the race at Tampa and ran respectably in the Derby preps,” Weaver said. “He went in the Derby and, obviously, that didn’t go well. After putting the pressure on to make the Derby, they felt like giving him a break afterward and sent him to me at the end of August. The horse is training very well. We’ve been waiting to run for a while, so we look forward to it.”
In his first start for Weaver, Falling Sky stumbled badly out of the gate and wound up ninth of 10 in the seven-furlong City of Laurel Stakes at Laurel Park on Nov. 9. Depending on Saturday’s outcome, Weaver said the goal is to return to graded competition.
“The horse is very light on his feet and athletic, and it would not surprise me if he were able to jump up and compete in graded stakes races this year,” he said. “That’s why they bought him. He’s going to have to prove it to me and everybody. It’s just going to be up to him.”
Who’s Hot: Meet-leading rider Javier Castellano added two more wins on Friday, taking the fifth race with Sea of Faces ($4) and the eighth with Lady Rouge ($8.80). Jockey Joe Rocco Jr. also had two wins, with Run Hide My Girl ($14) in the sixth and Latique ($17) in the finale.
Sea of Faces is trained by Antonio Sano, who also captured the opener with Capriccio Blue ($5.60).
Trainer Graham Motion picked up his first two wins of the meet with Ay No Digas ($12.20) in the seventh and Latique ($17) in the 10th.
Rainbow 6 paid: $30,670.26 Super Hi-5 carryover: $2,181.29