Mucho Macho Man breaks from the rail against a small field that includes Jackson Bend and defending champion Tackleberry in the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. II) March 10.
The one-mile test of older horses around one turn brings together Mucho Macho Man, impressive winner of Gulfstream's Sunshine Millions Classic Jan. 28, and Jackson Bend, who won the Hal's Hope Stakes (gr. III), for the first time.
Mucho Macho Man, emerging as a top handicap horse nationally after threatening on the Triple Crown trail last season, won the Millions Classic in his first start since early November. Jockey Ramon Dominguez flies in for a return call on Reeves Thoroughbred Racing and Dream Team One Racing Stable's 4-year-old son of Macho Uno for trainer Kathy Ritvo.
They teamed up to win by 1 1/2 lengths over state-breds in the SM Classic. The win was made all the more impressive when Ron the Greek, the runner-up, returned to capture the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) March 3.
“He couldn’t be training any better,” Ritvo said. “He’ll run a good race. He’ll run his race. He tries every time.”
Winner of the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) at Fair Grounds and finishing third behind Animal Kingdom in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), Mucho Macho Man won an allowance race by 5 3/4 lengths at Aqueduct in November before shipping South. The consistent bay colt has a career mark of 4-3-3 in 13 starts and earnings of $883,643. He would surpass $1 million in career earnings with a victory.
Jackson Bend got his season off to a strong start winning the one-mile Hal’s Hope Stakes Jan. 14 in his first start since finishing a game third behind Amazombie in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I) at Churchill Downs Nov. 5. Jockey John Velazquez will be back aboard the 5-year-old horse by Hear No Evil for trainer Nick Zito. They have the outside post.
Owned by Robert V. LaPenta and Fred J. Brei, Jackson Bend was prominent on the Triple Crown Trail in 2010 when he finished a close-up third in the Preakness (gr. I), beaten less than a length by Lookin At Lucky after a disappointing 12th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby won by Super Saver .
But the chestnut has been more effective in one-turn races, including a 3 1/4-length victory in the seven-furlong Forego Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga in early September and a second-place effort to Uncle Mo in the Kelso Mile (gr. II) at Belmont before the Breeders’ Cup. He finished fifth in the Gulfstream Park Handicap last winter, but was beaten only two lengths for it all after stumbling at the start.
“We know it’s going to be a tough race," Zito said. "There’s Mucho Macho Man. He’s actually one of my favorite horses, too. I’ve always liked that horse. I tried to buy that horse a couple times. He wasn’t for sale, but we tried anyway."
As far as Jackson Bend is concerned, Zito said: “He always shows up. The horse is doing well. He’s coming up to the race the way you want a horse to come up to it. You’ve got them all to beat. He has one of the biggest hearts in a horse I’ve ever seen. To be around (at) two, three, four years, he’s amazing.”
Jackson Bend carries top weight of 122 pounds, two more than Mucho Macho Man.
The speedy Tackleberry won last year's race by a neck over Soaring Empire in front-running fashion. Owned and trained by Luis Olivares, the Montbrook gelding has raced just twice since, going to the sidelines following a ninth-place showing in the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) May 30. Tackleberry also won the Sunshine Millions Classic and the Gulfstream Park Sprint championship over the track last year. Rajiv Maragh is named to ride.
“I know this is a tough spot, but we have to get him started some place,” said Olivares March 7. “I don’t think he can be 100% off this kind of layoff, but he’s doing great. He worked a half-mile at Calder (March 3) in 47 (seconds) and galloped out in :59 and change. It takes a really good horse to work like that at Calder. He’s a bigger, stronger horse than last year. I won’t be disappointed if he gets beat Saturday. There will be a lot of good races for him this year.”
Tackleberry figures to be in front with Mucho Macho Man stalking in second and Jackson Bend poised near the rear of the compact field.
Trainer Todd Pletcher sends out E. Paul Robsham Stable’s Soaring Stocks, winner of the Sunshine Millions Sprint, with jockey Joe Bravo. The son of Trippi has won three of four starts since breaking his maiden in his second race last summer at Monmouth Park. Two of the victories have come at Gulfstream.
Shadybrook Farm and partners’ 4-year-old Cajun Breeze ran second in the Sunshine Millions Sprint and will be ridden once more by Juan Leyva for trainer Michael Yates. Completing the field is LMR Stable’s 6-year-old Clean Shot with Luis Saez aboard for trainer Dubis Chaparro.
$300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. II, Race 8, 4:35 p.m.), 4 & Up, 1 Mile
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Mucho Macho Man (FL), R A Dominguez, 120, K Ritvo
2. Tackleberry (FL), R Maragh, 119, L Olivares
3. Cajun Breeze (FL), J C Leyva, 114, M Yates
4. Soaring Stocks (FL), J Bravo, 116, T A Pletcher
5. Clean Shot (FL), L Saez, 111, D Chaparro
6. Jackson Bend (FL), J R Velazquez, 122, N P Zito