By Ed Gray Photo Credit: Courtney Stafford
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Mucho Macho Man towered over his four rivals in Saturday’s $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap (G2), physically and competitively, as the strapping chestnut colt rolled to a commanding two-length victory in the mile feature.
The 3-5 betting favorite, who had previously captured the $400,000 Florida Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream on Jan. 12, claimed his third straight victory since teaming with jockey Ramon Dominguez after devouring the stretch with long, powerful and seemingly effortless strides.
“He’s so powerful coming down the stretch. It’s exciting to see that turn for home. He’s got a lot of fans. It’s exciting,” said Dean Reeves, whose Reeves Thoroughbred Racing owns Mucho Macho Man with minority partner Dream Team Racing. “This is what horse racing is all about. Big days, you come and it’s exciting. We’re just blessed to have such a great horse.”
The Kathy Ritvo-trained colt, who finished third in last year’s Kentucky Derby and was one of only three horses to compete in all three Triple Crown events, has returned from a five-month layoff with a trio of thoroughly convincing triumphs since November.
“He’s just been so impressive. He’s run so well going both one turn and two turns, I can’t really tell if he’s better on one than the other,” Dominguez said. He’s just on a roll right now.”
The son of Macho Uno settled into stride leaving the chute on the backstretch as Tackleberry set the pace, closely stalked by longshots Cajun Breeze and Clean Shot. At the risk of being trapped along the rail, Dominguez made a decisive move midway on the backstretch to slip between horses and pull alongside Tackleberry.
“There was a little seam as we went down the backside and I didn’t hesitate to take it. From there, he just fell into that long stride of his and I just pressed a little bit when I felt it was the right time,” said Dominguez, the Eclipse Award-winning jockey who ventured from Aqueduct to ride Mucho Macho Man.
Once safely in the clear, Mucho Macho Man and Dominguez were in total control, shadowing Tackleberry and jockey Rajiv Maragh before moving to the lead on the turn into the homestretch. Tackleberry, a three-time stakes winner at Gulfstream in 2011 who hadn’t raced since May, fought back gamely but was no match for the winner.
Mucho Macho Man ran the one-turn mile in 1:35.50 to collect the $180,000 winner’s purse, boosting his career bankroll to $1,060,000. The Luis Olivares-owned and trained Tackleberry held second by a half length over second choice Jackson Bend and jockey John Velazquez.
“He ran a monster race, a monster race. I’m very happy. I’m very proud of him,” trainer Luis Olivares said. “He came back, he never quick. I’m very proud of him.”
Tackleberry, the 5-1 third choice, won the Gulfstream Park Handicap last year after capturing the Sunshine Millions Classic and Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship.
““He ran amazing. He was in a dog fight from the half-mile pole and he never gave up,” said Maragh after riding the Florida-bred for the first time. “To run the race he did off that kind of a layoff was very impressive.”
Jackson Bend, the 7-5 second choice who captured the Hal’s Hope (G3) at Gulfstream on Jan. 14, stumbled at the start of the race.
“Things didn’t work out. He stumbled out of the gate, twice. He always wants to leave the gate fast, so a lot of times he stumbles,” trainer Nick Zito said. “They had Ramon in, but he got out, so Johnny had to make an early move. But he still dug in.”
Mucho Macho Man was successful in cutting back to a one-turn mile from the two-turn 1 1/8 miles of Florida Sunshine Millions Classic.
“I think it’s a mile to anything. I don’t think it matters, I really don’t,” Ritvo said. Maybe I’m a little confident but I don’t think it matters. He’s a happy horse”
Neither Reeves nor Ritvo would commit concerning Mucho Macho Man’s next start.
“I love my horse and I’m going to take care of him the best we can,” Ritvo said. “I want to do exactly what’s right for him. He’ll tell us where to go. I’m going to see how he comes back, what kind of timing we have.”
Gulfstream Park Racing & Casino is a multi-use entertainment facility and the premier destination of its kind in South Florida. Recognized for its world-class thoroughbred racing, Gulfstream Park is also home to more than 850 slot machines, high-stakes, no-limit poker, and the finest restaurants and shops at The Village at Gulfstream Park. Gulfstream’s world-championship 2011-2012 thoroughbred meet will run from December 3 through April 8. The $1 million Florida Derby will be contested on March 31. For further information contact [email protected], or call 954.658.7156.
Follow us on GulfstreamPark.com and Facebook.com/GulfstreamPark