07/31/2013 4:12PM

Saratoga: Mucho Macho Man looking ready for Whitney

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Barbara D. Livingston
In his most recent start, the Criminal Type overnight stakes at Belmont on June 14, Mucho Macho Man was third after being part of a hot early pace.

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Coming off a terrific 4-year-old season in which he won three stakes and finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Mucho Macho Man entered 2013 as one of the leaders of the older male division.

But this year isn’t last year, and for the most part Mucho Macho Man has been missing in action. Pulled up in one start, and third in a five-horse field in another, Mucho Macho Man enters Saturday’s Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney Invitational Handicap as a bit of a wild card in the eight-horse field.

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Mucho Macho Man drew post 2 and was made the 6-1 co-third choice in the Whitney, which features a rematch with Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and defending Whitney winner Fort Larned, the 7-5 morning-line favorite.

The Whitney is a Win and You’re In race for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, with the winner earning a fees-paid trip to Santa Anita on Nov. 2.

[BREEDERS' CUP CHALLENGE: Win and You’re In schedule and results]

As far as his connections are concerned, Mucho Macho Man is ready to return to the form he displayed last year when he won the Gulfstream Park and Suburban handicaps – both Grade 2 races – and ran second in the Grade 1 Woodward and Breeders’ Cup Classic.

“I think it’s a perfect race for him right now,” Kathy Ritvo, trainer of Mucho Macho Man, said. “He’s going into it well. I think he’s very prepared. He should be ready to run a big race.”

Mucho Macho Man began the year as the 2-5 favorite in the Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream. He was pulled up and didn’t finish the race, apparently not caring for the sloppy track.

Mucho Macho Man, owned by Dean and Patti Reeves, was ultimately found to have a bacterial infection and then a virus. He was shipped in February to the Fair Hill training center in Maryland, where he spent the remainder of the winter and all of the spring.

In his second start, the Criminal Type overnight stakes at Belmont on June 14, Mucho Macho Man finished third after being part of a hot early pace.

“I thought he ran okay,” Dean Reeves said. “I thought we got out of that race what we needed to get out of it.”

In July, Mucho Macho Man was relocated to Saratoga, where he has had three stamina-building workouts leading up to the Whitney.

“This is going to be a tremendously tough race,” Reeves said. “With this quality of field it’ll give you some idea where you’re at.”

For all his success – he has won four stakes and $2.3 million – Mucho Macho Man has yet to win a Grade 1.

“Is it important? Yeah,” Dean Reeves said. “Does it define his career? I think he’s had a great career. He’s beaten probably a dozen Grade 1 winners, so maybe it’s like Phil Mickelson trying to get what they consider a major. Did it mean he wasn’t a tremendous golfer? No.”

Mucho Macho Man “has competed with everybody, we’ve dodged nobody,” Reeves added. “It wouldn’t have taken much – he could have won the Woodward and Breeders’ Cup. Would we like to get a Grade 1? Absolutely. In our eyes he’s still a champion.”

While Mucho Macho Man is doing well leading up to the race, his connections didn’t think the horse fared too well at the draw, getting assigned post 2 inside of speed horses Fort Larned (post 3) and Cross Traffic (post 4). Edgar Prado will ride Mucho Macho Man.

“Two’s not my favorite number,” Ritvo said. “But we have all the confidence in Edgar.”

Fort Larned will attempt to become the first horse since Discovery (1934-35-36) to win back-to-back runnings of the Whitney.

“It’s an honor. It’s a good field, a good bunch of horses,” said Ian Wilkes, trainer of Fort Larned.

Cross Traffic, who had the rail when he was beaten a nose in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont, drew post 4 and was made the 5-2 second choice on Eric Donovan’s morning line.

Ron the Greek, second in this race last year, drew post 5 and was made the co-third choice at 6-1 along with Mucho Macho Man.

Completing the field are Alpha, last year’s dead-heat Travers winner; Successful Dan, coming off a disappointing fourth in the Stephen Foster; Csaba; and Fast Falcon.

The Whitney will go as race 10 on a 12-race Saturday card that begins at 1 p.m. NBC Sports will televise the Whitney in a one-hour broadcast beginning at 5 p.m. Eastern.

[SARATOGA 2013: Complete meet coverage, exclusive DRF videos]