CONTENDERS PREPARE IN LOUISIANA & ARKANSAS
Mucho Macho Man, Rogue Romance work for Louisiana Derby
MUCHO MACHO MAN (Macho Uno), a leading contender for this year's Kentucky Derby (G1), breezed four furlongs at Gulfstream Park Saturday under exercise rider Mike Heera. Mucho Macho Man was clocked in :48 2/5 in preparation for a start in the Louisiana Derby (G2) at Fair Grounds on March 26. It was the eighth fastest clocking of 32 recorded at the distance.
"He went great. It was just what we wanted," said trainer Kathy Ritvo, who was particularly pleased with the manner in which Mucho Macho Man finished during the work. "He's been great, super, just like his old self. He's come out of his race very well."
Mucho Macho Man, who concluded his 2010 campaign with a pair of runner-up finishes behind To Honor and Serve (Bernardini) in the Nashua S. (G2) and Remsen S. (G2), began his three-year-old campaign with a fourth-place finish in the Holy Bull S. (G3) at Gulfstream on January 30.
The Florida-bred colt rebounded impressively with a 1 1/2-length triumph in the Risen Star S. (G2) on February 19 at Fair Grounds, where he negotiated the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:43 4/5. His professional performance, in which he relaxed just off the early pace while racing without blinkers for the first time, prompted Ritvo to schedule the 1 1/8-mile Louisiana Derby as Mucho Macho Man's final Kentucky Derby prep.
"I think the distance will be good for him. I think he likes the track and definitely the two turns," said Ritvo, who will work her colt two more times before shipping to Fair Grounds in the middle of Louisiana Derby week. "He's definitely more mature than he was when we were back in New York."
Mucho Macho Man will be ridden again by Rajiv Maragh, who was a last-minute replacement in the Risen Star for regular rider Eibar Coa, who was hospitalized with a broken C4 vertebra in a racing spill at Gulfstream the day before the race. The colt's majority owner Dean Reeves visited Coa in Memorial Regional Hospital Friday to present him with a check for $18,000, the amount of the winning jockey's share of the Risen Star purse.
Mucho Macho Man's success has been a career highlight for his trainer, Kathy Ritvo, who received a heart transplant in November 2008.
"It's amazing; it's amazing; it's amazing," Ritvo said. "Every day is a great day to have my health and have a good horse. I'm so blessed, so lucky."
Mucho Macho Man was joined on the Gulfstream work tab by ROGUE ROMANCE (Smarty Jones), who is also scheduled to run in the Louisiana Derby. The Ken McPeek-trained colt, who closed to finish third behind the Ritvo trainee in the Risen Star, breezed four furlongs in :48 3/5.
The McPeek-trained KATHMANBLU (Bluegrass Cat), who will accompany Rogue Romance to Louisiana to run in the Fair Ground Oaks (G2) the same day, breezed four furlongs in :50 4/5. Kathmanblu, who captured the Sweetest Chant S. over the Gulfstream turf on January 22, captured the Rachel Alexandra S. (G3) at Fair Grounds on February 19.
Rebel hopeful J P's Gusto breezes at Oaklawn; Sway Away joins field
Gem Stables' Grade 1 hero J P'S GUSTO (Successful Appeal) posted a good-looking breeze on a windy Saturday morning at Oaklawn Park as he prepares for the $300,000 Rebel S. (G2) on March 19.
Under Oaklawn's leading jockey Cliff Berry, the three-year-old logged six furlongs in 1:13 3/5 over a track that was drying quickly from overnight rains. It was his first breeze since making his seasonal bow a troubled second in the $250,000 Southwest S. (G3) on February. 21.
"That's a good work for him when he's working by himself," trainer Joe Petalino said immediately after the breeze. "He's got an even-running style and a big stride. He's going good right now."
Clockers caught the winner of last year's Del Mar Futurity (G1) through an opening quarter in :25 and a half-mile in :49 1/5. Their watches indicated a final quarter in :24 2/5. The ridgling broke off at the six-furlong pole and had a considerable tail wind down the backstretch. He zipped around the turn and changed leads smoothly once turned back into the wind in the stretch. Berry was surprised by how quickly his mount eased up during the gallop out, but Petalino was reassuring.
"He's getting pretty smart," Petalino told Berry when meeting up at the barn. "He was by himself and he knew he was done once he got past the wire. I think he wants and is going to need something to shoot at when he's out there to keep him going."
"I liked how he got a little faster in every quarter," said Berry, who solidified his lead in the standings with a riding triple Friday. "You always enjoy getting on horses like this. He started off kind of medium, but then picked it up as we went along."
J P's Gusto was ridden by Ramon Dominguez for the first time in the Southwest, but that rider has also been aboard or is scheduled to ride three other hopefuls on the Kentucky Derby (G1) trail in the coming weeks. Petalino expects to hear some time this weekend if Dominguez will be back in Hot Springs in two weeks. Meanwhile, Petalino was happy with today's work and is drawing up plans for the next major event before the Rebel.
"This was about as good as what he did in his last breeze before the race," he said. "We'll look for a sharper five-eighths next time before we run, and I went today to give myself a day or so to play with in case of bad weather."
The Rebel field is shaping up to be a contentious affair, made more so by the addition of SWAY AWAY (Afleet Alex) to the expected line up on Saturday. Trainer Jeff Bonde is sending three of his stable stars to Oaklawn Park for stakes attempts, including recent San Vicente S. (G2) runner-up Sway Away.
Owned by Batman Stable and partners, the three-year-old was closing fast on highly ranked The Factor (War Front) in the seven-furlong San Vicente. The Rebel will be the first chance for the bay to race around two turns. Garrett Gomez, who piloted champion Lookin at Lucky to a victory in the Rebel last year, is expected to be back aboard.
Bonde says the horse's sire and running style make Oaklawn the obvious choice for the colt's next prep. Afleet Alex used Oaklawn as his stepping stone to classic glory, capturing the Mountain Valley S., running sixth in the Rebel and then taking the Arkansas Derby (G2) prior to a third in the Kentucky Derby (G1). He would go on to record easy wins in the Preakness S. (G1) and Belmont S. (G1).
"He has a pedigree that says he's going to run all day," Bonde said Saturday morning. "With the way he trains I don't see any problems for him stretching out at all."
The 56-year-old trainer is no stranger to Oaklawn Park, having sent Sierra Sunset to finish second in the Southwest S. (G3) and win the Rebel three years ago, but a hairline fracture discovered shortly after dashed any Derby dreams.
Sway Away, who could make up for that lost opportunity, worked Friday morning at Santa Anita Park, going a handy five furlongs in 1:02 4/5 under Gomez.
"Garrett came off of him very happy with the way he worked," Bonde said.
Bonde is also expected to ship in SLEW THE MAN (Slewdledo) for the $125,000 Razorback H. (G3) on March 12 and champion sprinter SMILING TIGER (Hold That Tiger) slated for the $150,000 Count Fleet Sprint H. (G3) on April 14 during the Racing Festival of the South.
Slew the Man and Sway Away are expected on a flight to Hot Springs Tuesday. Bonde was not sure if Smiling Tiger would continue to train in California and ship closer to his race.
Slew the Man is in search of the biggest win of his career, but is used to traveling in search of challenge. The four-year-old has been all over the Golden State and earned his most prestigious victory in the Chinook Pass S. at Emerald Downs outside Seattle against his fellow Washington-breds last September.
"He's a good honest horse, and we had noticed there hadn't been very big fields for the first couple older-horse races there," Bonde explained. "I know more will be shipping in now, but we figured we'd take a chance."
Smiling Tiger gave Bonde his first career Grade 1 victories last year when he took the Bing Crosby at Del Mar and the Ancient Title during Oak Tree's meet at Hollywood Park. The horse went on to finish third in the Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) behind Big Drama (Montbrook).
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