On Saturday, the popular duo of jockey Paul Atkinson and CARACORTADO (Cat Dreams) hope to move a step closer to the May 1 Kentucky Derby (G1) when they run in the $150,000 San Felipe S. (G2) going 1 1/16 miles at Santa Anita. Early on, Caracortado and Atkinson flew beneath racing's radar, but after winning the Robert B. Lewis S. (G2) on February 13, trainer Mike Machowsky proclaimed those days were over.
"He surprised me when I worked him three-quarters here (in 1:12 2/5 on January 31), but from then on, he's pretty much run as I expected," the 40-year-old Atkinson said of Caracortado, a gelding bred by Machowsky, who also owns a share of the horse.
"It doesn't seem like distance will be a problem for him, either," Atkinson continued. "Like in the Lewis, he just waited, and sitting on him, it was kind of like, 'Can we go now? How about now? Are we ready yet?' When I let him go, he just turns it on and gives you everything he's got."
Caracortado's humble beginnings began with a 1 3/4-length victory in a $40,000 maiden claiming event going about a half-mile over the dirt at Fairplex.
"I thought he'd be a good price, it was Fairplex, and I knew he was fast," Machowsky laughed when asked if he had underestimated his charge. "And he's fast, but he also can run all day."
Since Caracortado won the Lewis, Machowsky has been fielding questions from a suddenly piqued national media about the horse he calls "M.C." around the barn.
"It stands for mentally challenged," the trainer explained. "He was a pain in the ass when I first got him, but now he's a pro. Lately, a bunch of guys are calling all the time asking about the horse. I've done quite a few interviews, which is great. Hopefully, it will keep going."
Caracortado has been extremely consistent in his races, winning all but one of his five lifetime starts by 1 3/4 lengths. The lone exception came on December 6 when he captured an allowance by 1 1/2 lengths. He'll attempt to keep his perfect record going while breaking from the far outside 7 post in the San Felipe.
SIDNEY'S CANDY (Candy Ride [Arg]), AMERICAN LION (Tiznow) and INTERACTIF (Broken Vow) are just three of Caracortado's rivals in the race, and each hopes to pad their own resumes with another win before Kentucky Derby Day.
Sidney's Candy is the likely speed in the San Felipe following a front-running 4 1/4-length score in the San Vicente S. (G2) on February 15. The John Sadler trainee was making his stakes bow in that seven-furlong event and will be trying a route of ground here for the first time. Regular rider Joe Talamo has the call on the chestnut colt.
American Lion is out to turn the tables on Caracortado after failing to keep stride with that rival late in the Lewis. The bay three-year-old tracked in second until reaching the stretch and then fell to the onslaught of both the winner and runner-up DAVE IN DIXIE (Dixie Union), who is looking for his first black-type win in this race. American Lion already owns a graded score, having captured the Hollywood Prevue S. (G3) in his juvenile finale. Julien Leparoux will be aboard the Eoin Harty runner, while Joel Rosario will hold the reins once again on the Sadler-conditioned Dave in Dixie.
Interactif broke his maiden on dirt, stretched out on turf to easily take the With Anticipation S. (G3) and Bourbon S. (G3), and will be trying an all-weather surface for the first time here. He was second by a nose in his sophomore bow, the Hallandale Beach S. at Gulfstream Park, and has been working in Florida over the winter for trainer Todd Pletcher. Rafael Bejarano takes over the mount.
Maiden STEPHEN'S GOT HOPE (Stephen Got Even) and maiden winner ERBEIA (Pulpit) round out the San Felipe field.