03/08/2012 2:23PM

Gulfstream Park Handicap sees matchup of three local favorites

Barbara D. Livingston
Mucho Macho Man raced in all three legs of the Triple Crown in 2011 and started out 2012 with a victory in the Florida Sunshine Millions Classic.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Mucho Macho Man, Jackson Bend, and Tackleberry are among the most popular horses to compete at Gulfstream Park over the last two winters, each with his own group of loyal supporters, all of whom figure to be out in force on Saturday when the trio square off in the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap.

The Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap highlights Saturday’s 11-race card that also includes the Grade 3 Swale for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs.

Mucho Macho Man and Jackson Bend are as different as night and day. Mucho Macho Man is a strapping 17 hands, while the diminutive Jackson Bend may be short on stature but long on heart and talent. Tackleberry was an iron horse here a year ago, winning the Sunshine Millions Classic, Gulfstream Park Sprint, and the Gulfstream Park Handicap within an incredible six-week span.

Mucho Macho Man was on the Kentucky Derby trail last winter, training locally but having his finest hour at the Fair Grounds, where he captured the Grade 2 Risen Star. He was one of only three horses to compete in all three legs of the 2011 Triple Crown, finishing third in the Derby, sixth in the Preakness, and seventh in the Belmont.

Trainer Kathy Ritvo gave Mucho Macho Man the summer off following the rigors of the Triple Crown, bringing him back for a resounding allowance win going a mile at Aqueduct in his 3-year-old finale. He opened his 2012 campaign with an impressive 1 1/2- length victory over Ron the Greek in the nine-furlong Florida Sunshine Millions Classic, a performance that took on added meaning after Ron the Greek returned last weekend to win the Santa Anita Handicap.

Mucho Macho Man will turn back to a mile again for the Gulfstream Park Handicap.

“He’s pretty versatile and adjusts very well, so I don’t think shortening him back to a mile will be a problem,” said Ritvo. “I love the way he’s come back so far this winter. He’s continued to mature and train very well, and I think Ron the Greek’s win in California just shows how good a race the Sunshine Classic was here.

Ritvo also said she’s not concerned about drawing the rail.

“He has enough speed that Ramon should be able to place him where he needs to be,” said Ritvo.

Ramon Dominguez will again ride Mucho Macho Man, who will carry 120 pounds, two fewer than Jackson Bend and one more than Tackleberry.

Jackson Bend also won his 2012 debut, overcoming a rough trip to capture the Grade 3 Hal’s Hope at a mile on Jan. 14 in his first start since finishing third as the favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Jackson Bend, who finished fifth behind Tackleberry after stumbling at the start of the 2011 Gulfstream Park Handicap, won the Grade 1 Forego last summer at Saratoga.

“Competition-wise it’s a very salty race, but Jackson is Jackson,” said trainer Nick Zito. “He’s a terrific horse who does everything right. Every time you look at him you say, ‘Wow.’ You take him out and put him next to a bigger, stronger horse like Mucho Macho Man and it’s amazing that he can compete. People use the expression about a horse having a lot of heart too often, but in his case, it’s true.”

Zito is hoping he will get a little help from Mucho Macho Man and Tackleberry with the pace.

“You can’t ever change a horse’s style,” said Zito. “Jackson just has to settle. Hopefully they’ll do a little mixing up front and we’ll be okay.”

Tackleberry has not started since finishing ninth in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap nearly 10 months ago, and owner-trainer Luis Olivares admits he’s facing a tough task coming off the bench on Saturday.

“I know this is a tough spot, but we have to get him started someplace,” said Olivares. “I don’t think he can be 100 percent off this kind of layoff, but he’s doing great. I won’t be disappointed if he gets beat Saturday. There will be a lot of good races for him this year.”

Soaring Stocks and Cajun Breeze, who finished first and second, respectively, in the Sunshine Millions Sprint, and longshot Clean Shot complete the field.

Gulfstream Park H. (G2), Post Time: 4:35 ET Saturday

Purse: $300,000; 1 mile





ML Odds


Mucho Macho Man

K. Ritvo

R. Dominguez




L. Olivares

R. Maragh



Cajun Breeze

M. Yates

J. Leyva



Soaring Stocks

T. Pletcher

J. Bravo



Clean Shot

D. Chaparro

L. Saez



Jackson Bend

N. Zito

J. Velasquez