06/12/2013 4:14PM

Belmont Park: Mucho Macho Man could be done in by weather

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Barbara D. Livingston
Mucho Macho Man has been beaten badly in his two starts over an off track.

The connections of several graded stakes winners will keep an eye to the sky as the first of five “Party of the Park” Fridays is highlighted by a pair of $90,000 overnight stakes. First post is 3 p.m. Eastern, as it will be each Friday through the end of the meet.

A forecast for potential heavy rain and thunderstorms arriving Thursday afternoon could wreak havoc with comeback plans for Mucho Macho Man in the Criminal Type (race 3), and Hudson Steele in the Three Coins Up (race 5).

On a fast track, Mucho Macho Man, who won last year’s Suburban here before running a close second in both the Woodward and Breeders’ Cup Classic, would appear ideally posted in the 1 1/16-mile Crminal Type, breaking from the outside in a field of five.

But Mucho Macho Man’s Achilles’ heel is slop. Two starts in the muck and mire have resulted in a 24-length drubbing in the 2011 Belmont Stakes and a debacle at Gulfstream Park when pulled up at 2-5 in defense of his Sunshine Millions Classic title.

Trainer Kathy Ritvo said Mucho Macho Man came out of that race apparently none the worse for wear, and decided to freshen the 5-year-old for the remainder of the winter. He took up residence at Fair Hill early this spring, and comes off consecutive bullet works in preparation for his first start in almost five months.

Any moisture in the track would clearly favor Hymn Book, who garnered his most important win over an off track in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap last year. Now 7, Hymn Book has won three overnight stakes at Belmont on tracks labeled sloppy, muddy, and good, but he has never won on a fast track.

Hymn Book made his first start of the season in the Grade 2 Alysheba on May 3, and finished evenly for third.

“We were in a good position the whole way, they just kind of sprinted away from us,” said trainer Shug McGaughey. “I thought we ran good.”

Rain or shine, San Pablo figures to make his presence felt first time out since finishing off the board in the Razorback Handicap on Mar. 9, although all six of his stakes wins for Todd Pletcher have come around two turns.

“He needed a little time after the last race at Oaklawn Park,” said Pletcher. “We were waiting on a nice, soft spot. It came up like a Grade 2, but we’re cautiously optimistic he’ll run well.”

Also in the field are Isn’t He Perfect and Sovereign Default.

There are seven turf-meant runners in the Three Coins Up, scheduled for the inner turf at 1 1/8 miles, along with four for dirt only.

Hudson Steele, last year’s Dixie winner, has been sidelined 11 months since the Man o’ War. He has never run on turf rated something other than firm.

“He came out of the Man o’ War with a right-hind ankle injury that required time off,” Pletcher explained. “He’s training as well as ever and looks good, but we’re concerned about the weather.”

Other contenders on grass include Swift Warrior, who began the season with back-to-back wins in Grade 3 stakes before racing wide in the Dixie, and Speaking of Which, a Group 3 winner at 1 1/4 miles in his native Ireland, who stretches out after chasing stablemate Lubash in the Fort Marcy.

“He might want to go a bit further,” noted trainer Christophe Clement.

Jaguar Paw and Love to Run become the ones to beat if the race is taken off.