The Gulfstream Park racing season hits another gear Saturday with the highly-anticipated third clash between Mucho Macho Man and Ron the Greek.
Reeves Thoroughbred Racing’s 5-year-old Mucho Macho Man and Brous Stable, Wachtel Stable and Jack Hammer’s 6-year-old Ron the Greek are expected to meet in the $400,000 Florida Sunshine Millions Classic.
The 1 1/8 miles Classic will be the climax of the Sunshine Millions card of six stakes races for Florida-breds worth a total of $1.3 million. Jockey Mike Smith will be back aboard Mucho Macho Man for trainer Kathy Ritvo and Jose Lezcano retains the mount on Ron the Greek for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott in the field of seven.
The 2012 season for the two handicap stars began in the Sunshine Millions Classic here on Jan. 28 with Mucho Macho Man scoring by 1 ½ lengths over Ron the Greek before they went their separate ways, not meeting again until the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Santa Anita on Nov. 3. Mucho Macho Man finished a game second that day to Fort Larned with Ron the Greek fourth.
“He came out of the Breeders’ Cup really, really well,” said Ritvo of Mucho Macho Man. “He’s older and stronger now than last year. He will be wearing blinkers to keep him a little more focused. He’ll be on his schedule with a race about every two months. He’s been training great and loves this race track. As always we’ll let Mike (Smith) ride his race and say ‘good luck’.”
A son of Macho Uno, Mucho Macho Man burst on the national stage as a 3-year-old in 2011 winning the Risen Star Stakes (G2) at Fair Grounds and finishing third behind Animal Kingdom in the Kentucky Derby (G1). He ran four times between the two ‘Classics’ last year, winning the Gulfstream Park Handicap (G2), Suburban Handicap (G2) at Belmont Park and finished second by a neck in the Woodward Stakes (G1) at Saratoga.
Ron the Greek was sent west for his first start after the Sunshine Millions Classic early last year and won the Santa Anita Handicap (G1) by 3 ½ lengths in March. The son of Full Mandate then finished second in the Oaklawn Handicap (G1) in April and won the Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) at Churchill Downs in June.
In two more starts before the Breeders’ Cup, Ron the Greek ran a strong second to Fort Larned in the Whitney Handicap (G1) at Saratoga before throwing in his only bad one of the campaign when sixth in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) at Belmont behind un-coupled, Mott-trained stablemate Flat Out
“He seems to be doing well and he’s healthy,” says Mott. “He came back (from the Breeders’ Cup Classic) fine. We’re taking on a top horse in Mucho Macho Man. He’s been working very well and it seems like he’s very sharp, so we’ll just have to see what happens.”
While most of the attention in the Classic will focus on the top two, Jacks or Better Farms’ homebred 4-year-old Fort Loudon shouldn’t be overlooked with jockey John Velazquez aboard for trainer Nick Zito. The son of Awesome of Course concentrated on sprinting for most of last year after finishing fifth behind Union Rags in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) and sixth behind Take Charge Indy in the Florida Derby (G1) here early in the campaign for Calder-based trainer Stanley Gold.
After winning three straight sprint stakes at Calder for Gold, Fort Loudon was sent to Zito in New York and ran very well to be second in the seven-furlong Kings Bishop Stakes (G1) at Saratoga before a dull seventh-place try in the Vosburgh Stakes (G1) at Belmont.
Fort Loudon went on to a good runner-up effort in the one-mile Ack Ack Handicap (G3) at Churchill Downs in early November and checked in second again behind Bahamian Squall in the Sunshine State Stakes here on Dec. 2.
Completing the field are Roman Hill Farm’s I’m Steppin It Up, Whatdoyouknow Racing’s Atoned, Rose Family Stable’s Decaf Again and Larry Fugate’s Cash Rules.
Mucho Macho Man/Coglianese