Photos courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire
By Bob Ehalt
If you liked the 2012 racing season, then you will probably love 2013.
In a fairly unusual turn of events, several of last year’s biggest stars are still in training. They’re older, and perhaps better, and in some cases are much bigger stars than they were at this time a year ago. Wise Dan probably will be acclaimed as the reigning Horse of the Year the next time he races, and Royal Delta will most likely be a two-time champion when she makes her 2013 debut.
Adding to the fun, there’s both quality and depth among the returnees, as reflected in Saturday’s Sunshine Millions Classic Stakes at Gulfstream Park. In a strong dose of star power for a mid-January stakes, the 1 1/8-mile stakes features not only the runner-up in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) but also the winner of both the Santa Anita (G1) and Stephen Foster (G1) Handicaps.
Mucho Macho Man and Ron the Greek met in last year’s Sunshine Millions Classic, but were lesser weights in terms of accomplishments when they slugged it out last January. Mucho Macho Man, who won by a length a half, was best known for finishing third in the 2011 Kentucky Derby (G1). Ron the Greek, who was second that 2012 afternoon, had just won a pair of ungraded stakes in New York.
This year, they head into their seasonal debut as two of the best runners in the older male division, and Saturday’s result promises to establish an early pecking order among horses in this division.
Of the two, Mucho Macho Man should feel more at home at Gulfstream. He has won two of his three career starts at the Florida oval and has trained sharply on the track for his first race in 2 1/2 months.
The Sunshine Millions served as a springboard last year to subsequent wins in the Gulfstream Park (G2) and Suburban (G2) Handicaps and runner-up finishes in the Woodward Stakes (G1) and the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and Mucho Macho Man once again seems poised for a big year.
Ron the Greek rebounded from his loss in the Sunshine Millions to take the Santa Anita Handicap and two starts later captured the Stephen Foster to hand Horse of the Year favorite Wise Dan his lone 2012 defeat.
The Foster proved to be Ron the Greek’s final win of 2012, but a freshening since a fourth-place finish in the BC Classic – he was about 7 ½ lengths behind Mucho Macho Man – should have him on his toes for his first start of the new year.
The field also includes I’m Steppin’ It Up, Fort Loudon, Atoned, Decaf Again and Cash Rules. Combined, they did not earn as much as either Mucho Macho Man or Ron the Greek did in 2012. Yet as much as this year should showcase some old friends, there’s always a chance that a new star could arise.
Welcome to 2013.
And what are your thoughts? Who will the Sunshine Millions? Will Mucho Macho Man and/or Ron the Greek be major players in the race for an Eclipse Award?