01/26/2012 3:11PM

Gulfstream Park: Mucho Macho Man tops deep field for Florida Sunshine Millions Classic

Barbara D. Livingston
Mucho Macho Man will make his 4-year-old debut in Saturday’s $400,000 Florida Sunshine Millions Classic.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – When the California breeders opted out of the traditional Sunshine Millions program this winter, it was feared the overall quality of the event might suffer. Instead, the newly formatted Florida Sunshine Millions at Gulfstream Park – restricted solely to Florida-breds for the first time in the 10 years it has been run – has arguably come up the strongest ever, with two Eclipse Award champions and 17 graded stakes winners among the 48 horses entered in the six races on Saturday’s card.

Although the California breeders are not participating in the traditional Sunshine Millions, they will hold their own three-race series for Cal-breds at Santa Anita on Saturday. Those three races will be intermingled with the final three stakes on the Florida Sunshine Millions card to make up the $250,000-guaranteed “Luck” pick-six wager that celebrates the new HBO racing series “Luck,” which premiers Sunday evening.

HRTV will cover the Florida Sunshine Millions live, with hosts Caton Bredar and Scott Hazelton.

[GULFSTREAM: Watch video previews and see Saturday's full card live]

The six-race, $1.3 million Florida Sunshine Millions will be highlighted by the $400,000 Classic at 1 1/8 miles. The stellar field is topped by Mucho Macho Man, third-place finisher in the 2011 Kentucky Derby, and Turbo Compressor, runaway winner of Calder’s Carl G. Rose Handicap in his 3-year-old finale. Other key contenders include Adios Charlie, Ron the Greek, and Duke of Mischief. Longshots Dream Maestro and Decaf Again complete the lineup.

Mucho Macho Man was one of only three horses to compete in all three legs of the 2011 Triple Crown. Along with his third-place finish in the Derby, Mucho Macho Man finished sixth in the Preakness and a troubled seventh in the Belmont Stakes.

Trainer Kathy Ritvo gave Mucho Macho Man, a son of Macho Uno, the summer off to recuperate from the rigors of the Triple Crown before bringing him back to complete his 3-year-old campaign with an easy and very impressive allowance win at Aqueduct on Nov. 9.

Eclipse Award-winning jockey Ramon Dominguez will again be aboard Mucho Macho Man in the Classic.

[LUCK PICK SIX: Watch video handicapping previews, follow the races LIVE]

“I’m quietly confident going into this race,” Ritvo said. “He’s ready to run, and Ramon knows him well. I won’t be giving him any instructions. I’ll just let him ride his own race. This colt is a much better horse now than he was during the Triple Crown. He’s bigger, smarter, and more mature. He’s really grown up.”

Turbo Compressor was inconsistent at times as a 3-year-old. But when on top of his game and allowed to relax on the lead, he turned in some huge efforts, including not only his runaway victory in the Carl G. Rose but his wire-to-wire, 2 3/4-length triumph in the Curlin last summer at Saragoga. Turbo Compressor began his career locally, but was transferred to trainer Todd Pletcher’s barn during the spring of his 3-year-old campaign.

“It’s a tough race, but I think he’ll run very well,” Pletcher said. “If we could be on the lead, that would be Plan A, but we’re not going to go in 45 to do it.”

Adios Charlie, who has never finished worse than second in six career starts, thrust himself into the 3-year-old picture last spring by finishing second behind Alternation in the Grade 2 Peter Pan and second in the Grade 2 Dwyer. But trainer Stanley Hough had to stop on his up-and-coming prospect while training for the Travers due to a bone bruise in his left hind leg.

Adios Charlie made a triumphant return at the end of the year, rallying to an easy 3 1/4-length allowance win here Dec. 16.

“I was very happy with his first start back, and he came out of the race good,” Hough said. “A lot of us are kind of in the same boat with horses turning 4 coming off little breaks and things. I like that there’s some speed in there, so we should be able to get good position. But it’s a tough bunch. They never give anything away around here, even in statebred races.”

Ron the Greek brings a modest two-race win streak into the Classic while having shown improved speed in both those starts. When last seen locally last winter, Ron the Greek was rallying from far back to finish sixth in the Grade 1 Donn and fourth in the Grade 3 Skip Away.

Duke of Mischief is hoping to rebound from a disappointing performance when finishing a well-beaten fifth in the Harlan’s Holiday overnight stakes Dec. 17. Duke of Mischief, a multiple graded stakes winner, registered his richest victory last spring in the $1 million Charlestown Classic. He also finished fourth after joining the leaders in early stretch of the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs.