Has Mucho Macho Man become predictable? So far, the blueprint for his career has been way too simple in that you have a pretty good idea where he's going to be at the finish based on where he is at the eighth pole.
In his second career start, he was second at the eighth pole and finished third. In the Nashua Stakes (gr. II), he was second at the eighth pole and finished second. In the Remsen Stakes (gr. II), he was second at the eighth pole and finished second. In the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III), he was fourth at the eighth pole and finished fourth. In the Louisiana Derby (gr. II), he was second at the eighth pole and finished third.
In the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), he was fourth at the eighth pole and finished third. In the Alysheba Stakes (gr. III), he was third at the eighth pole and finished third. In last year's Woodward Stakes (gr. I), he was second at the eighth pole and finished second. In the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I), he was second at the eighth pole and finished second.
This year, it's been no different. In the Criminal Type Stakes, he was third at the eighth pole and finished third. And in the Whitney Invitational (gr. I), he was second at the eighth pole and finished third.
Now for the other side of the coin. Other than has career debut, in races Mucho Macho Man has been in front at the eighth pole, he has been unbeatable.
Such was the case in his maiden victory, the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II), an allowance/optional claimer at Aqueduct Racetrack, the Sunshine Millions Classic, the Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. II), and the Suburban Handicap (gr. II). Six times (other than his career debut when he was a head in front and finished second), he's had the lead at the eighth pole and he's won all six.
So, when trainer Kathy Ritvo goes over strategy with jockey Edgar Prado (the horse's eighth jockey) before the Woodward Stakes (gr. I) Aug. 31 at Saratoga Race Course, her instructions could very well be short and simple: Make sure you're in front at the eighth pole.
Now, getting in front of Cross Traffic, Paynter , and Fort Larned at the eighth pole is not going to be an easy chore. These are three extraordinarily talented horses who have won a total of 16 races in their career and have been in front at the eighth pole in 14 of them. So, where does that leave Mucho Macho Man? It's possible it leaves him with the task of doing something he's never done before, while taking three potential champions out of their game plans.
What all this means is that it is time for Mucho Macho Man to start firing some different weapons. But will he be able to do that? Will the Woodward be the race he shows everyone a new dimension?
Here is the reason why it can be. Since the 2011 Triple Crown, Mucho Macho Man has run pretty much every two months. While that schedule probably has prolonged his career and kept him sound and still fresh and running strong at age 5, it is possible that by not having a prep close to a race, he might not have been quite sharp enough to get the lead by the eighth pole or be able to run down top-class horses in the final furlong. That, of course, is pure conjecture, in an attempt to make a good case for him in the Woodward.
Last year he won the Sunshine Millions Classic Jan. 28 and then six weeks later captured the Gulfstream Park Handicap March 10. In the Woodward, he will be coming back only four weeks after his excellent third in the Whitney. He did win the Risen Star three weeks after running in the Holy Bull.
Perhaps this is the time Mucho Macho Man can prove he can catch horses in the final furlong or even get the better of brilliant horses like Cross Traffic, Fort Larned, and Paynter before they hit the eighth pole. Of course, he still would then have to hold off closers Flat Out , Successful Dan, and Ron the Greek, among others.
In short, if Mucho Macho Man is going to take that next big step and win a grade I race against championship-caliber horses, this could be the race. Or the Woodward and Whitney together could set him up for that big win in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Regardless of what he does the rest of the year it's been quite a magical ride for Ritvo and owners Dean and Patti Reeves; just having a complete horse who can compete at the highest level for four years, winning graded stakes and placing in the Kentucky Derby, Breeders' Cup Classic, Whitney, and Woodward.
If not for sloppy tracks in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) and Sunshine Millions Classic and rough trips in the Preakness and Holy Bull, he might never have finished out of the money. As it is, he's been in the top three in 17 of his 21 starts, which is a tribute to his trainer. It isn't easy keeping a hard-running 17-hand-plus horse that consistent.
Try talking to Patti Reeves about him and see how long her eyes remain dry.
"It makes me tear up, I'm so emotional about him," she said on an NTRA national teleconference. "And who doesn't love the song 'Macho Man?' It got him a lot of fans early on. He has his own Facebook page and gets a lot of interaction on there. What has helped is having him still in training at age 5. As a result, his fans have grown over time. We even invite fans to meet us at the track and watch him train."
Dean added, "He's a little different than most horses, being 17-plus hands and such a game horse. He works hard every race. He's been in the money all but four times, and those were our fault. He's just a blue collar horse who shows up every time."
As for the tough task ahead in the Woodward, Dean said, "He's coming into this race better than the Whitney. He ran into problems early in the year with a bacterial infection and it usually takes several races to get back in top form. Hopefully, he'll move forward off the Whitney.
"We've learned to be humble about these races. You can have a great day and the next time it won't go your way. We've learned to have a lot of patience and you have to be able to accept disappointment. I was disappointed after the (2012) Woodward and the Breeders' Cup, but when it's over you realize you just finished second in Classic and you should be happy and appreciative of that. We've met so many nice people along the way and have gone to a lot of wonderful places. He's opened so many doors for me personally. If not for Mucho Macho Man, I would not have played golf at Augusta."
The Reeves' also have a great deal of respect and admiration for their trainer.
"We just love Kathy," Dean said. "She's done a fabulous job keeping this horse ready for his races, and she doesn't get enough credit. In the Breeders' Cup, she beat a lot of good horses and lot of good trainers. Look at how many of these older horses aren't running anymore. She knows this horse inside and out. We also have to thank our racing manager Finn Green, who's been a tremendous help preparing these horses and working with Kathy."
Dean Reeves still thinks back to the Breeders' Cup Classic and how close (a half-length) Mucho Macho Man came to landing the richest race in America.
"I was a little numb," he said. "I can still see Macho in that position stalking the pace and thinking turning for home we could have had that race. Both he and Fort Larned dug in and made for an exhilarating race. We beat him in the Whitney, but a couple of others (Cross Traffic and Successful Dan) finished ahead of us. It's frustrating that he hasn't won a grade I. To me, he is a grade I champ. He's beaten over a dozen grade I winners but he just hasn't knocked off that grade I win. I just hope our day will come to win one of those."
Said Patti, "You'll be seeing tears in Dean's eyes if that happens."