01/25/2011 1:34PM

Caracortado brings to mind another star for Machowsky


ARCADIA, Calif. – In the winter of 2003-04, Southern Image was California’s dominant older horse. Through the campaign, trainer Mike Machowsky mixed and matched historic races at Santa Anita, such as the Malibu Stakes and Santa Anita Handicap, with new races, notably the Sunshine Millions Classic, to guide Southern Image to a career-defining five-race winning streak.

With a few alterations, Machowsky is hoping for the same kind of results this winter with Caracortado, a colt he bred and co-owns with Blahut Racing. Saturday, Caracortado starts in the $300,000 Sunshine Millions Turf for California-breds and Florida-breds over 1 1/8 miles on Santa Anita.

By the time that Southern Image reached the Sunshine Millions Classic in late January of 2004, he was two races into a five-race streak and had won the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes. Caracortado was a troubled third in the Malibu Stakes last month, but Machowsky thinks the gelding can play a major role in the Sunshine Millions Turf.

A win there would lead to more lucrative races in March, either at Santa Anita, or possibly Dubai.

“He’s a bigger and stronger horse than last year,” Machowsky said.

At this time last year, Caracortado was best known as the former maiden claimer who won his first five starts, including the Grade 2 Robert Lewis Stakes in February, a key prep for the Santa Anita Derby.

“He gave us a helluva run for someone we didn’t expect much from when we started,” Machowsky said.

After a third in the San Felipe Stakes in March and a fourth in the Santa Anita Derby, where he was in traffic on the turn, Caracortado did not have sufficient earnings to start in the Kentucky Derby, leading to an appearance in the Preakness Stakes on May 15, where he finished seventh. Following that race, Caracortado was given the summer off, with an eye toward a 2011 campaign.

“He was a bit sore and beat up,” Machowsky said. “He needed some time. I worked him once after the Preakness and the girl that got on him – Amy Mullins – said he was body-sore. We decided to hang it up and have a nice 4-year-old.

“He’s only a May foal, and that’s another reason we decided to wait until this year.”

Caracortado returned to win an optional claimer over six furlongs on turf by a comfortable 1 1/2 lengths at Hollywood Park in November, his first start on turf. In the Malibu, Caracortado, ridden by Joe Talamo, raced along the rail on the backstretch but was forced to wait behind horses briefly on the turn, losing valuable momentum. Talamo guided Caracortado to the outside in early stretch and the gelding rallied to finish third, 3 1/2 lengths behind winner Twirling Candy.

The Malibu was a race that Machowsky wanted back, as soon as it was over.

“I think he could have been right there, or a lot closer anyway,” Machowsky said.

The Sunshine Millions Turf will be a key test – Caracortado’s second start at the distance, and first stakes appearance on turf. He will face such notable runners as the graded stakes winners Jeranimo, Presious Passion, and The Usual Q.T.

Caracortado’s preparation, however, has been without trouble, and the Sunshine Millions Turf distance is not a concern, Machowsky insists.

“Everything has gone smoothly,” Machowsky said. “I’m not worried at all about the distance.

He had that troubled trip in the Santa Anita Derby and was still closing.”

A start in Saturday’s $500,000 Sunshine Millions Classic on the main track at Gulfstream Park was not strongly considered, he said. “I didn’t want to ship at this time of the year,” Machowsky said. “I wanted to be able to run out of his own stall.

Last weekend, Machowsky, 45, stopped short of predicting a win on Saturday for Caracortado, but he expects a top performance. If that occurs, the options include the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap or $300,000 Frank Kilroe Mile on turf, both on March 5, or even a start in Dubai. Machowsky nominated Caracortado to four stakes on the Dubai World Cup program on March 26, but is not sold on the journey – at least not yet.

“He can do turf, dirt, or synthetic,” Machowsky said. “If he does good, it opens up whole new opportunities. He’s got to win on Saturday. If we think we can win the Big Cap or the Kilroe Mile, I doubt that we’ll ship. American racing needs some stars right now.”

Southern Image briefly held that role in early 2004. After the Big Cap, he won Pimlico Special in May and was second in the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs in June of that season, his final career start.

Machowky is hoping that Caracortado’s campaign lasts much longer.