With Rajiv Maragh picking up the mount for the injured Eibar Coa, Mucho Macho Man held off Santiva to win the $300,000 Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO) by 1 1/2 lengths Feb. 19 at Fair Grounds.
Mucho Macho Man shipped in from Florida where he finished fourth in the Jan. 30 Holy Bull (gr. III) in his 3-year-old debut at Gulfstream Park. The son of Macho Uno
was twice grade II placed in New York as a juvenile and his first victory of 2011 puts him squarely in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) picture. The bay colt is trained by Kathy Ritvo.
Maragh was assigned the mount on Mucho Macho Man only late yesterday after Coa was seriously injured in a spill at Gulfstream. He put Mucho Macho Man in the perfect position in the 1 1/16-mile Risen Star, settling just off the pace set by Decisive Moment
, who ran opening splits of :24.67 and :49.24. Also up close in a tightly-bunched field were Liondrive
Most in the field of 10 were still in contention when they rounded the final turn, but Mucho Macho Man had forged a narrow lead when they hit the top of the lane. He closest rival was Santiva, the Kentucky Jockey Club (gr. II) winner in his last start, and those two battled through the stretch. But Mucho Macho Man never relinquished his advantage and hit the wire first to pocket $180,000 of graded earnings for his owners—Reeves Thoroughbred Racing and Dream Team One Racing Stable.
Sativa settled for second under Mike Smith, 1 1/4 lengths in front of favored Rogue Romance
, who was making his season debut after finishing third in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) in November. Machen
checked in fourth.
The final time on the fast dirt was 1:43.98.
“My horse cooperated and settled in well behind the leaders and once he settled I expected him to make a big finish and he sure did," Maragh said. "In the post parade he did everything right that you would ask from a horse. He settled but he was pretty focused so he was giving me all the right signals. I had been on him already in the morning so I am a little bit familiar with the horse. I’ve seen him run many times so it wasn’t hard to get acquainted with him.”
The winner, bred in Florida by John and Carole Rio, is out of the Ponche mare Ponche de Leona. He improved to 2-3-1 from seven starts and has earnings of $310,643.
As a 2-year-old, Mucho Macho Man broke his maiden at third asking at Monmouth Park before finishing second to To Honor and Serve in both the Nashua (gr. II) and Remsen (gr. II) at Aqueduct.
“I had a lot of confidence in Rajiv," said Ritvo, who wasn't sure if Mucho Macho Man would be back for the $1 million Louisiana Derby (gr. I) March 26. "He’s been on him before with my husband in Saratoga, when my husband trained him, and Rajiv’s a professional, a 100% professional; a great rider. And I want to wish Eibar Coa a speedy recovery. I’m very concerned about him and I wish him all the best.
"I’m just excited because I’ve got my health back and I’m ready to go. And the horse is great, you couldn’t ask for a better horse. He goes two miles like he’s out to jog. He’s just going to get better the farther the distances get. It’s a great accomplishment and he’s improving, and he’s just got to stay going two turns.”
Much Macho Man paid $9.20, $4.80, and $2.80. The exacta (5-7) returned $72.80 and the trifecta (5-7-1) was worth $252.
Decisive Moment was fifth, followed by Pants On Fire, Action Ready, Justin Phillip, Sorgho, and Liondrive.