Top handicap horse Mucho Macho Man will launch his 2013 season with a title defense in the $500,000 Florida Sunshine Millions Classic, showcase of the six-race $1.3 million event for Florida-bred horses at Gulfstream Park Jan. 19.
"We thought it was the ideal place to start," said trainer Kathy Ritvo, who worked with Reeves Thoroughbred Racing's stable manager Finn Green on the decision to target the 1 1/8-race Classic.
The soon-to-be 5-year-old son of Macho Uno launched a highly successful 2012 campaign with a 1 1/2-length triumph over Ron the Greek in last year's 1 1/8-mile Classic.
Mucho Macho Man went on to win the Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. II) and Suburban Handicap (gr. II) at Belmont Park before finishing a troubled second in the Woodward (gr. I) at Saratoga Race Course. He completed his season with a game second-place finish in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I), in which he engaged Fort Larned on the outside during a thrilling stretch duel, only to fall a half-length short of victory.
"On Saturday morning, he'll go three-eighths of a mile in preparation for the Sunshine Millions here on the 19th of January," Green said. "It's a great race to go back into after the Breeders' Cup Classic, a fantastic race for him to get back."
Mucho Macho Man, who picked up $900,000 for his stirring runner-up finish at Santa Anita on Nov. 3, has earned more than $2.3 million in purses while compiling an impressive resume that includes a third-place finish in the 2011 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). A grade I victory has still eluded him, however, and his connections had the option to bypass the Sunshine Millions in favor of the $500,000 Donn Handicap (gr. I) at Gulfstream Feb. 9.
"He'll catch plenty of grade 1s this year, but this is best race to go into after that race," Green said in reference to the Breeders' Cup Classic.
"He's done great. He's come out of the race great," Ritvo added. "He came out fantastic and he's shown us all the right signs."
Mucho Macho Man's connections said they'll take his 2013 campaign one race at a time.
"We have a plan, but we're just going to start with this one," Ritvo said.
Bred by John and Carole Rio, the consistent performer Mucho Macho Man has won six of 18 lifetime starts with five seconds and four thirds.
The Florida Sunshine Millions will be conducted as a prelude to the 44th annual Eclipse Awards ceremony, which will be held for the first time at a racetrack on the evening of Jan. 19 in Gulfstream Park's Sport of Kings facility.