Jockey Gary Stevens had a message for trainer Kathy Ritvo following Mucho Macho Man’s 14-length tally in the $400,000 Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park on Saturday.
“Congratulations,” said the Hall of Fame jockey following the reigning Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner’s 14-length romp in the finale of Saturday’s $1.3 million Sunshine Millions program, ‘you’re right where you want to be.”
While Stevens was referring to Mucho Macho Man’s conditioning and preparation, Ritvo was very happy indeed to find herself in the winner’s circle at Gulfstream Park.
“It’s nice to win at home,” Ritvo said. “We have total confidence in Gary, so the whole race was fun. I was very comfortable today.”
Mucho Macho Man, who would be a finalist for the older horse title as well as the Horse of the Year honor at the 43rd annual Eclipse Awards in the Sport of Kings at Gulfstream Park later in the evening, was sent to post as the 1-10 favorite against a field of five seriously outclassed rivals in the 1 1/8-mile event for Florida-bred horses. Making his first start since he captured the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic by a nose over Will Take Charge at Santa Anita on Nov. 2, Reeves Thoroughbred Racing’s fan-favorite enjoyed a stress-free journey Saturday. The same, apparently, can’t be said for his jockey.
“I actually felt more pressure today than I did in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. On paper, they can’t get beat, but they all can get beat,” Stevens said. “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.”
After an alert start, Stevens allowed Mucho Macho Man to settle a couple lengths behind pacesetting Bernie the Maestro, the 5-1 second choice ridden by Joel Rosario along the backstretch. With barely any urging, Mucho Macho Man pulled alongside the pacesetter leaving the backstretch and proceeded to leave the competition far behind under a mild hand ride.
“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. But there was no intention of trying to embarrass anybody,” said Stevens referring to pre-race instructions from Ritvo and Finn Green, the stable manager of Dean and Patti Reeves. “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.”
Trainer Barry Rose saddled the second- and third-place finishers, Joshua’s Comprise and Decaf Again. The 42-1 former defeated his 41-1 stablemate by 1 ¾ lengths.
Mucho Macho Man captured his third straight victory with a clocking of 1:48.76, built on fractions of :23.08, :46.25, 1:10.52, and 1:35.55. The ninth career victory was worth $240,000 to Reeves while boosting his career bankroll to nearly $5.6 million.
Mucho Macho Man, who had captured the 2012 Sunshine Millions Classic, was heavily favored to win the race last year, only to be pulled up in the stretch due to his dislike for the sloppy track. His 2013 season was further compromised by viral and bacterial infections before getting untracked late in the year to win back-to-back in the Awesome Again (G1) and the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Santa Anita.
The Reeves opted to delay the son of Macho Uno’s stallion career and return him to the track for 2014.
“We felt like he had an opportunity to do a lot of great things for horse racing,” Dean Reeves said. “He has great fans and I love running.”
Mucho Macho Man’s 2014 campaign will be 100-percent geared toward a defense of this Breeders’ Cup Classic title. The Sunshine Millions Classic was chosen as the kickoff due to the many options it gives his connections in plotting a schedule. Two of those options are the Santa Anita Handicap (G1) on March 8 or even the $10 million Dubai World Cup (G1) on March 29.
“They are two of the options. One of them is a little more conventional for us – Santa Anita for the Big Cap,” Green said. “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.”
-Gulfstream Park Publicity
Gulfstream Park photo