Just when it seemed like things couldn’t get any better for John and Carole Rio, they did. The Florida residents were flying high on Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14) after a Miniature Pinscher bred by Carole, Marlex Classic Red Glare, won Best of Breed at the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club dog show in New York. Five days later, a colt bred by the couple, Mucho Macho Man , captured the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II).
Since then Marlex Classic Red Glare, whose nickname is Classie, has won the national specialty competition for her breed and Mucho Macho Man has run third in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) and third in the Kentucky Derby Presented By Yum! Brands (gr. I). After finishing sixth in the Preakness, the 3-year-old son of Macho Uno is scheduled to complete his Triple Crown run in the June 11 Belmont Stakes (gr. I).
“We’re riding the wave while it’s here and we’re enjoying it immensely,” Carole Rio said.
The Rios’ small Thoroughbred breeding operation is based on 40 acres they lease at Rose Grove Farm near Ocala. They own four mares, including Mucho Macho Man’s dam, Ponche de Leona.
Mucho Macho Man’s life started dramatically at Rose Grove. When he was foaled on Father’s Day (June 15) in 2008, Rio believes she witnessed a miracle. She and her husband knew Ponce de Leona was about to give birth, so they made sure someone was watching her when they left the farm planning to be away for only at hour at most.
Nothing should have gone wrong, but the Rios got a telephone call with some disturbing news: The foal had been born and he was dead. The upset Rios rushed back to Rose Grove and when they got there, “the mare was standing over Mucho Macho Man and he was lifeless,” Carole Rio remembered. “So I got down and I rubbed him. We prayed over him and stood there for a few minutes and then, all of a sudden, he jumped up and ran off.”
After that scare, Mucho Macho Man turned out to be a pretty normal, healthy young horse with pleasant personality.
“He was a really easy to be around; he never gave you any trouble with anything,” Rio said. “He was a calm, smart horse. I raised him with another colt that we bred. He was rough and rugged and Mucho Macho Man took the brunt of it. He wasn’t the boss of that field.”
Physically, Mucho Macho Man was tall and gangly.
“He was one of those horses that I would look at and think, ‘I would like to see more weight on him; I’d like to see another 50 or 100 pounds on this horse,’ ” Rio said. “He was a great eater, but he was just one of those horses that maintained a certain weight when you wanted to see a little bit more.”
In an ideal world, the Rios would have sold Mucho Macho Man at public auction. But they didn’t think his appearance would be attractive enough to buyers to make it worth their while, so that’s why they ended up selling the colt privately to someone they had known for a long time, James Culver.
“When we called up Jim, it was October (of 2009),” Carole Rio recalled. “We said, ‘Jim, we know this horse is going to be a runner, but he’s not marketable as a yearling and we don’t want to run him through a 2-year-old sale because then we would have to press him and he’s a June 15 foal.’ Jim said, ‘I really don’t have any money, but maybe I could get some partners to go in on him.’ Later, he called me back and said, ‘Give me some pictures of him so I can pass him along.’ I took three or four photos of the horse and e-mailed them, and then Jim called me back shortly after that and said he gotten somebody to go in with him and was going to buy him. I said, ‘Great!’ ”
Culver and Kostas Hatzikoutelis manage the partnership known as Dream Team Racing Stable, which campaigns Mucho Macho Man. The colt’s other owners are Dean and Patti Reeves of Reeves Thoroughbred Racing.
The Rios, meanwhile, still own 1% of Mucho Macho Man and are part of the Dream Team group.
“We’ve seen a whole different side of the sport (by racing Mucho Macho Man) and it’s wonderful,” Carole Rio said. “He’s not a longshot. He’s a solid horse and solid contender, and that makes me want to strive harder to breed something that is stakes caliber or better. Now I really understand while people want to continue racing and owning these horses. It’s a fabulous sport.”
So far, Rio’s biggest racing thrill involving Mucho Macho Man was attending the Kentucky Derby.
“When they broke out of the starting gate and the announcer said, ‘They’re off in the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby,’ I looked at my husband and I had tears in my eyes,” Rio said. “I had chills running up and down me, and I can’t really express the unbelievable joy I felt. I said to myself, ‘We’ve won. Whether he wins or runs dead last, we’re still the breeders of a Kentucky Derby starter.’ ”