HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, January 17, 2014—When the connections of 2013 Horse of the Year finalist Mucho Macho Man decided to begin their youthful six-year-old’s 2014 campaign in Saturday’s Florida Millions Sunshine Classic, it was done with the immediate future in mind. After all, that other Classic is still 10 months and more than three thousand miles away.

Eventually, a Breeders’ Cup Classic defense will take care of itself, but first things will be first. Five brave equine souls will take on the Classic champion--if the nine furlong event stays intact, that is.

And while the competition is badly overmatched on paper, there is always the pressure of getting around there safely and, hopefully, in front at the wire.

That pressure will mount as the racing world watches the Macho Man race as one of the shortest-priced favorites in Gulfstream Park stakes history as it awaits the Eclipse Award ceremonies scheduled to take place at the same venue in a matter of hours after the Sunshine Millions program is completed.

Mucho Macho Man, 2-for-2 beneath Gary Stevens, is the 2-5 early line favorite.

While the connections have not officially eliminated the possibility of a run in the Grade 1 Donn next month, we’re betting against that proposition. Unlike Saturday’s race, the timing just doesn’t fit. It is more likely that, if all goes well, the late June 2008 foal will await the month of March to make a second start.

From the beginning, owners Dean and Patti Reeves, with stable advisor Finn Green, have always acted in the colt’s best interests. That would eliminate the Donn from serious consideration and should put the kibosh on a trip to the United Arab Emirates.

The Santa Anita Handicap, given the Macho Man’s affinity for Santa Anita and the timing, makes a lot more sense, especially since he always has appreciated ample recovery time between starts.

Besides, he’s never run on a synthetic surface and there’s a half-world of difference between training on one and racing over it. Keep America’s most popular horse--as chosen by Thoroughbred racing fans—at home. There will be no shortage of prestigious or lucrative opportunities within these borders.

Three Year Old Preps on Both Coasts; Fillies, Too

The Grade 3 Lecomte that jump-starts Fair Grounds’ Road to the Kentucky Derby might come down to a battle between Steve Asmussen and Larry Jones runners. Respectively, they will saddle early line favorites Gold Hawk (3-1) and Albano (7-2).

Gold Hawk has yet to run in a stakes but has won both career starts, including his two-turn and Fair Grounds debut at a mile and 70 yards in late December. He won the race going away in solid time after surviving a bumping match and wide rally entering the stretch. A son of 2003 Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker, Derby pedigree should not be at issue.

Albano, meanwhile, is 2-for-3 and ended his juvenile season with a win the six-furlong Sugar Bowl Stakes in comparatively fast time. He is a half-brother to Mark Valeski which finished second two years ago in both the subsequently more meaningful Risen Star and Louisiana Derby.

The Lecomte is no two-horse affair, however. Smarty’s Echo (8-1), nowhere to be found in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile following a runner-up finish in Keeneland’s G1 Breeders’ Futurity, has been training up a storm for his return and clearly is much better than his Juvenile indicates.

The ubiquitous Ken and Sarah Ramsey will be represented by an interesting runner in the Michael Maker-trained Vicar’s in Trouble (9-2). He’s never been around two turns and broke his maiden in restricted Louisiana-bred company. But he won by 13 over Saturday’s surface and gets Rosie Napravnik, seeking her fourth consecutive Fair Grounds riding title.

Two fillies, Divine Beauty (8-5) and Unbridled Forever (9-5), deservingly will get the most support in the Silverbulletday Stakes, a race that successfully has helped launch three year old distaffers toward the Kentucky Oaks and beyond.

Divine Beauty, 2-for-2 lifetime, won the $60,000 Letellier Memorial Dec. 21 in fast time for the team of Larry Jones and Rose Napravnik. Jones is hoping that Divine Beauty will be in a position to give him a third Kentucky Oaks victory, following in the hoof prints of Proud Spell and Believe You Can.

The filly she must beat is the faster Unbridled Forever, most impressive breaking er maiden at seven furlongs by 5-1/2 lengths at Churchill Downs last fall after getting Lasix for the first time. Dallas Stewart taps main man Robby Albarado for the assignment. Lemons Forever, the dam of Unbridled Forever, won the Kentucky Oaks for Stewart as a 47-1 upsetter in 2006.

Hollandorfer and Baze in the California Derby Spotlight:

Exit Stage Left, undefeated in two career starts including the Gold Rush Stakes over Golden Gate’s synthetic surface, will be a tough out in the Northern California fixture but is no layover.

Morally Bankrupt, compromised by a tough trip when prepped in Santa Anita’s Eddie Logan, was 2-for-2 on an All-Weather surface in Great Britain. Royal Banker, second in that event, also has synthetic experience. These two, as well as good-finish Gold Rush runner-up Argyle Cut, makes the event even trickier than it appears at first glance.

Pletcher Takes Out Derby Insurance with Hartford:

Last week, is was Constitution which made a favorable impression as a seven furlong maiden breaker at Gulfstream Park. On Thursday, Hartford, made his debut at the same distance and was more impressive in our view.

Comfortably stalking the leader on the outside under Javier Castellano, the $700,000 Tapit colt assumed the lead willingly on his own and widened without urging to win by 5-3/4 lengths in 1:24.47 with a final furlong in 12.12 seconds in a highly professional performance.