Race of the Week: Mucho Macho Man at Gulfstream | Sunday, January 1, 2023

The Lead:
It's a Thoroughbred birthday party of sorts Sunday as newly turned 3-year-olds match up in the kickoff leg to the Florida Derby series. Gulfstream Park's Mucho Macho Man Stakes carries a $150,000 purse, 1-turn dirt mile configuration and full field of 12 entries. The dozen provide a nice mix of Florida, New York and Kentucky runners.

​Field Depth:  
While each seeks a first career stakes win, existing stakes-placed performers in the lineup include DREAMING OF KONA, GENERAL JIM, FLIPARINO and MR. BOB. There's no decided class edge among these in the past performances, and a quartet of last-out winners stepping up in class are just as likely to factor as those with stakes experience.

Of the 12 runners, they've appeared in 39 collective races and only 4 times - by 4 different runners no less - has one of them made the early lead. This is not a race with the pace you'd expect for a 1-turn mile of rising players. DREAMING OF KONA and MR BOB are most likely to make the front in this handicapper's eyes, and that tactical edge could cash.

Our Eyes:
Here are my horse-by-horse notes:

LEGACY ISLE: Though 2-for-2, not visually impressive and very inefficient action could catch up to him with better competition. He's drawn the rail now in all 3 starts and handles that assignment.

IL MIRACOLO: Disastrous road trip for Remsen, but Sano rarely travels unless he has a good one. Nov. 12 win at Gulfstream was hard-ridden out and just 26-2/5 final quarter. Respect the Gun Runners, and this barn won the Mucho Macho Man last year with Simplification (pictured above).

BABY BILLY: Maiden was twice-beaten favorite, but picks up Rosario and should be a good style fit for trainer not afraid to throw one to the wolves.

DREAMING OF KONA: Potential pacemaker has bullet workout since Inaugural Stakes third at Tampa when chasing a Keeneland stakes winner named Super Chow, who wired that day at 3-5.  Don't worry about trouble comment at start, wasn't a factor and was his fault, but note he galloped out best of all.

GENERAL JIM: Shug McGaughey trainee goes turf-to-dirt, but pedigree certainly to handle it by Into Mischief and being a grandson of Havre de Grace, a Horse of the Year and main track superstar. Third in only dirt try, at Saratoga, and didn't show any disdain for it that day behind a razor-sharp winner. Luis Saez opts to ride here over MR BOB.

WINE EMPIRE: Claimed for $35K and $75K in his last 2 starts, difficult read on synthetic form. Would be big surprise.

FLIPARINO: Mama Swap Fliparoo was G1 Test winner and won '07 Sabin over a mile at Gulfstream in a blowout fashion. Flat late going 2 turns last time in the Street Sense at Churchill, but should be much more suited around 1 turn based on pedigree and form.

MR BOB: Expect hustling early speed from Irad Ortiz, Jr, a notable replacement for Luis Saez. Broke very sharp from inside in Churchill stakes last out, then was taken a hold of and relaxed nicely. Finished up well and tried hard. Working well since. Big chance.

LIVE IS LIFE: 1-for-7 with propensity to hang late and not finish. Couldn't sustain run against Legacy Isle and Eyes on the King, and those aren't my top selections in this spot.

LORD MILES: Saffie Joseph Jr. won this race in 2020 with Chance It and has a big chance for another trophy. This one looked to be going nowhere a half-mile into his sprint debut, but the Curlin colt just rocket-launched in upper stretch and won as easily as you could imagine while only used for maybe 3/16ths of a mile. Strong work since for a colt out of a half-sister to Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Caledonia Road.

EYES ON THE KING: Rock-solid visually on the Tapeta winning around 2 turns last time. If able to get near the front, will provide his best chance. Win-early damside pedigree, so no surprise to see this one sharp in August debut ... the trick will be to continue development.

LAVER: Bernardini-Centre Court blueblood takes a backseat to none of these in pedigree. Mama was a 5-time turf winner in Grade 1/Grade 2 stakes, and his half-sister Navratilova won the Grade 3 Valley View on grass at Keeneland. As for dirt, Laver's win and second in Kentucky last fall check the box. Maiden breaker last time significant in that third-place runner came back to win Dec. 16 MSW at Gulfstream and fourth-place finisher (named Banishing) romped Monday in a Fair Grounds MSW and looks to have a future. Knock is that this one tends to hang a bit late.

Most Certain Exotics Contender:
No mortal locks in this department, but DREAMING OF KONA intrigues with speed in a race without much else of it.

Best Longshot Exotics Contender:
FLIPARINO has been 15-1 and 8-1 in two starts and should be better around one turn Sunday.

Sending it in ($100 bankroll):

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