Bittersweet victory for Caracortado’s trainer

Caracortado and jockey Paul Atkinson made quite a team in 2010 as the gelded son of Cat Dreams won the first five races of his career with Atkinson aboard. After a 1 3/4-length victory in the Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 13, Caracortado was on many experts’ top 10 Kentucky Derby lists.

The streak ended on March 13 when Caracortado finished third, beaten two lengths by eventual Santa Anita Derby winner Sidney’s Candy. He ran fourth in the Santa Anita Derby, skipped the Kentucky Derby and then finished a well-beaten seventh in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico.

At that point, trainer and co-owner Michael Machowsky decided to freshen Caracortado in hopes of bringing him back later in the year. He was sore after the Preakness and Machowsky thought the time off would be good for the talented gelding.

“I breezed him one time after the Preakness and he was just kind of body sore,” Machowsky said. “He wasn’t himself, a little drawn up, and I sent him out and gave him a little freshening and he came back looking like a man.”

He came back on Nov. 11 at Hollywood Park, making his turf debut with a new jockey, Joe Talamo. The Caracortado-Atkinson dream team was no more after eight races.

“It’s kind of a bittersweet win,” Machowsky said Saturday after Caracortado won the $300,000 Sunshine Millions Turf at Santa Anita. “I mean, I love winning a race like this. Believe me, it’s the joy of my life. But I still feel bad a little bit about having to put a different rider on the horse three races back. But it’s just part of politics, part of this business. I’ve been on the bad side of that situation before as a trainer.”

Machowsky said Atkinson never did anything wrong with Caracortado. But when the gelding’s other owner, Donald Blahut, mentioned that maybe they should try a younger rider when Caracortado came back, he felt he owed it to his partner to go along with the idea.

“Mr. Blahut, he’s had horses with me for 20 years,” Machowsky said. “During the summer when we gave (Caracortado) a little freshening, he said, ‘Hey, when he comes back maybe we’ll just think about a different rider on him that rides day in and day out and rides more often, a younger rider.”

Enter the talented, 21-year-old Talamo, who’s won twice in three tries aboard Caracortado, including a 1 3/4-length victory in his turf debut two races back. He had a wide trip and finished third in the opening-day Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita before returning to the turf Saturday for the Millions.

Immediately after Caracortado’s latest victory, Machowsky said he would return on March 5 in one of two Grade I races at Santa Anita — the $300,000 Kilroe Mile on grass or the $750,000 Big ‘Cap on the dirt.

Sunday morning, after reporting Caracortado came out of the Sunshine Millions Turf in good order, Machowsky said he’s “75 percent” certain that he’ll run in the Kilroe Mile on Big ‘Cap day.

Machowsky was confident Caracortado would enjoy the turf after two dirt races and six on synthetics.

“He has that turn of foot, and I said, ‘If he handles the turf, he’s going to be a good turf horse.’ ” he said. “The way he ran that day, he exploded, and I was very confident going into (the Millions). I was getting e-mails and texts from my buddies all day asking if I was nervous. And I was like, ‘Nah, he’s doing too good to worry. If he gets beat, he gets outrun today.’ ”

He didn’t get outrun, not even by runner-up The Usual Q.T., a very accomplished turf horse, and Machowsky and Blahut have a versatile horse on their hands that figures to have a say in many 2011 stakes races.

Machowsky wishes Atkinson was still along for the ride, but hey, that’s horse racing. Atkinson knows it, and it was a good story for the journeyman rider while it lasted.

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