Jockey Gary Stevens was under orders not to embarrass the competition.
His horse, Mucho Macho Man, didn’t get the memo.
Mucho Macho Man laid waste to an overmatched field in Saturday’s Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park, scoring a 14-length victory despite every effort on Stevens’ part to leave something in the tank.
“Macho showed up today, and in big fashion,” Stevens said.
The trouncing came as little to no surprise to bettors, who sent the 6-year-old horse off at dime-to-the-dollar odds of 1-9 in a field of six Florida-breds.
None was any match for Mucho Macho Man, who was testing the racing waters for the first time since early November when he won the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
“I actually felt more pressure today than I did in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, sitting in [the jockeys’ quarters] all day long and riding one on paper that can’t get beat,” Stevens said. “But they all can get beat.”
Saturday wasn’t one of those days.
Greeted by cheers from adoring fans when he entered the paddock walking ring, Mucho Macho Man settled in behind Bernie the Maestro before blowing past in the final turn and pulling away in the stretch.
Even though Stevens had the horse under wraps, he could tell Mucho Macho Man’s motor was running.
FLASH SALE! Unlimited digital access for $3.99 per month
Don't miss this great deal. Offer ends on March 31st!SAVE NOW
“You can tell by how fast the poles are going by you,” Stevens said. “He’s a deep breather and just carries loads of oxygen.”
Mucho Macho Man opened up such distance on the rest of the field that the horse began to wonder what had happened to his weaker rivals.
“He was fluttering his ears in the stretch, kind of waiting, looking for some competition,” Stevens said. “He kind of likes to have a target.”
No matter how hard Stevens tried, there was no slowing the horse. So much for trainer Kathy Ritvo’s pre-race instructions to Stevens.
“The thing they told me was, ‘Look, we don’t need to put on a show today. Don’t show him off,’ ” Stevens recounted. “And he kind of showed off anyway on his own.
“There was no intention to try to embarrass anybody.”
The easy win was just what Ritvo and owner Reeves Thoroughbred Racing were looking for, something just to get him started on his 2014 racing campaign.
“That was strong, very impressive,” said owner Dean Reeves.
Said Ritvo: “It was good to have him back. It was fun.”
Ritvo has been just as much of a story as her horse. The resident of Davie underwent a heart transplant in 2008.
The horse-and-trainer combination has made Mucho Macho Man a bit of a celebrity. Several fans brought Mucho Macho Man signs to the track on Saturday, which Stevens signed.
The horse didn’t disappoint them.
Mucho Macho Man broke on top at the start of the $400,000 stakes — a 1 1/8-mile event — but conceded the lead to Bernie the Maestro and jockey Joel Rosario entering the first turn as the betting favorite followed within striking distance.
“I wanted Joel to know my intentions were, ‘If you’re not going, I’m going,’ ” Stevens said. “He had to use his horse a little bit to clear the first turn.”
After that, it was all Mucho Macho Man.
“I suppose it was more like a workout than a race,” Stevens said. “He ran fast and I geared him down at the end to try not to overdo it.”
Joshua’s Comprise was a distant second, with Decaf Again taking third.
Stevens discovered a spot of blood on his white pants as he was galloping out following the race, and worried that it originated from either Bernie the Maestro — the only horse that Mucho Macho Man ever trailed in the race — or, even worse, the jockey’s own horse.
But Stevens figured out the blood was his own. He cut his forehead with his fingernails when he pulled down a fresh set of goggles during the race.
“My fingernails are a little bit long,” Stevens said. “And I’m a little bit superstitious, so I didn’t cut them today. So I went to pull a pair of goggles down and cut myself.”
As for Mucho Macho Man, Saturday’s race took very little out of him.
“The whole goal is to get him back to the Breeders’ Cup Classic and get him to duplicate what he did last year,” Stevens said. “It’s a long ways. But we got the right start today.”