02/19/2011 8:30PM

Mucho Macho Man relishes return to two turns in Risen Star

Lou Hodges Jr.
Mucho Macho Man (right) launches his winning move under Rajiv Maragh in the Risen Star.

NEW ORLEANS – Sometimes fast horses run better in longer races. Mucho Macho Man is a fast horse, no doubt. In his career debut he ran an opening quarter-mile in 21 seconds and change. But Mucho Macho Man, at this point, appears to be no sprinter. Stretched back out to two turns Saturday in the Grade 2, $300,000 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds, Mucho Macho Man won for the second time in his career, beating Santiva by 1 1/2 lengths.

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“He relaxed so well,” said trainer Kathy Ritvo. “He was perfect today.”

Mucho Macho Man won his maiden at Monmouth in his third start, his first try in a two-turn race. He then finished second, four lengths behind To Honor and Serve in the Nashua Stakes, a one-turn mile, but got within two lengths of To Honor and Serve in the 1 1/8-mile Remsen around two turns. In his first start at 3, Mucho Macho Man contested a demanding pace and faded to finish fourth in the Holy Bull Stakes, another one-turn mile. Blinkers were removed for the Risen Star, and, back at the kind of true route in which he excels, Mucho Macho Man stepped up his game.

Mucho Macho Man’s win gave Ritvo her first victory of 2011 and was her first in a graded stakes. Ritvo assumed control of her husband Tim’s stable when he became an executive with Gulfstream Park last year. She had trained on her own in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Mucho Macho Man had been ridden in his last two races by Eibar Coa, but Coa was badly injured in a Friday spill at Gulfstream, and the mount wound up with Rajiv Maragh, who was here to ride two horses for trainer Todd Pletcher.

“I had a lot of confidence in Rajiv,” Ritvo said. Maragh never had ridden Mucho Macho Man in a race, but was aboard the horse in workouts last year, Ritvo said.

Maragh, in fact, guided Mucho Macho Man ($9.20) to a perfect trip. Away alertly, Mucho Macho Man took up a stalking position behind a surprisingly slow early Risen Star pace. With Pants on Fire nowhere near his customary position on the front end, and Justin Phillip, another potential pace player, never involved, Decisive Moment wound up with a clear lead, setting slow splits of 24.67 seconds, 49.24, and 1:13.65. But Decisive Moment had little left when challenged coming into the stretch, and quickly was swallowed up. Mucho Macho Man was the first to pounce, with Santiva also ganging up farther on the outside. About a neck in front at the quarter pole, Mucho Macho Man switched leads smoothly, leveled off, and inched clear in the final furlong. He was timed in a solid 1:43.98 for 1 1/16 miles, and galloped out with good energy, his ears pricked.

“He gallops two miles and it’s like a jog,” Ritvo said. “He’s a June 15 foal. He’s going to get better the farther we go.”

Santiva turned in a solid performance in his first start since winning the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes on Nov. 27. Unable to match strides with the winner, he finished 1 ¼ lengths in front of third-place Rogue Romance.

“I’m very happy,” said trainer Eddie Kenneally. “He needed a race, and he’ll improve from this and move forward.”

Rogue Romance, the 2-1 favorite, raced in traffic much of the way, finishing decently once clear in his first start of 2011.

“That should set him up for his next race,” said jockey Julien Leparoux.

The top three finishers all will return to Florida in coming days, but all are possible for the Louisiana Derby here March 26.

Previously unbeaten Machen, another 2-1 shot, broke last, moved into contention past three-eighths pole, but lacked a late-stretch punch, finishing fourth in his stakes debut.

“He put me where I needed to be at the quarter pole,” jockey Jamie Theriot told trainer Neil Howard. “I called on him and he gave me a little bit.”

Decisive Moment finished fifth, followed by Pants on Fire, Action Ready, Justin Phillip, Sorgho, and Liondrive.

Mucho Macho Man, a Florida-bred by Macho Uno and out of Ponche de Leona, by Ponche, is owned in partnership, but primarily by Reeves Thoroughbred Racing. Dean Reeves, that group’s principal, picked out Mucho Macho Man for purchase after his career debut last summer. The previous owners, Dream Team One Racing, still own part of the horse, as do his breeders, John and Carole Rio.