The team of Caracortado and Paul Atkinson will appear next in the San Felipe Stakes.<br><a target="blank" href="">Order This Photo</a>

The team of Caracortado and Paul Atkinson will appear next in the San Felipe Stakes.
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Caracortado and Atkinson: Get Used to It

Caracortado's trainer Mike Machowsky remains loyal to his rider.

In most cases, an undefeated, grade II-winning 3-year-old ridden by a virtual unknown rider would have a big-name jockey on him by now. You can be sure trainer Mike Machowsky’s phone has been ringing off the hook with offers to put a top rider on Caracortado, who will be trying for his sixth career victory in as many starts in the $150,000 San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) March 13. But it is still little-known Paul Atkinson who sits atop the son of Cat Dreams.


As far as Machowsky is concerned, there is nothing to discuss. Forget Garrett Gomez. Forget Mike Smith. Forget Rafael Bejarano. Forget them all. He’ll stick with the rider who won only five races all of last year, four of them on Caracortado.


That might not make sense to many, but to Machowsky, who bred and owns part interest in Caracortado, loyalty supersedes all else.


“When I was breezing a bunch of horses at Del Mar last summer, Paul was coming off an injury and he needed to get fit, so he was helping me out in the morning working some horses,” Machowsky said. “I thought when he was ready to start riding again I’d repay him and try to put him on a horse I thought would be live.”


Machowsky felt his Cal-bred gelding, Caracortado, who had been working on even terms with his top young prospect, Nextdoorneighbor, would be live debuting in a $40,000 claiming race going 4 1/2 furlongs at Fairplex Park.


Of course, he never dreamed the horse he was sending out at odds of 9-1 in the seven-horse field would eventually become one of leading contenders for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).


But now that Caracortado is just that, Machowsky has remained steadfast in his decision to keep Atkinson on the horse.


“I’m firm believer that loyalty means something, and Paul has ridden him flawlessly every time; I’m very confident in him,” Machowsky said. “Paul has nothing to worry about. I own a piece of the horse and my partner, Don Blahut, has been with me for 20 years. He’s been loyal to me through the years and he’s never wavered on anything.


“It’s everybody’s dream to get to the Derby, and Paul deserves as much chance as a guy like Garrett Gomez or Mike Smith. If we get there, I won’t have any regrets throwing him up on the horse on that Saturday and letting him take him out there. If you get to know Paul, not much fazes him; he’s calm and cool. Nothing really bothers him.”


Machowsky said if Caracortado runs big in the San Felipe, he will remain in California and point for the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I).


“I’m not worried about him running on dirt,” he said. “I just want to keep him fresh, and, hopefully, we’ll get through it all and be there in May.


Machowsky has no second thoughts about his rider or his decision to geld Caracortado last spring.


“We gelded him last March or April,” he said. “We certainly never thought he’d be a Derby contender, so we felt he’d be better off as a gelding. He was a little bit of a wild man when we first got him, so gelding him might have made all the difference in the world to him. I don’t regret anything.”


So, it is obvious Machowsky will continue his journey on the Derby trail with a clear head and no regrets. That’s a great mindset to be in. It’s all up to Caracortado, who Machowsky said has changed a great deal in the last three months.


“He’s filled out more and he’s actually hitting a growth spurt,” he said.


If Caracortado runs up to expectations in the San Felipe, the Cal-bred gelding and former claimer, and his unheralded jockey could spurt all the way to the starting gate on the first Saturday in May.