Maybe it was the relatively modest California breeding or the obscure jockey that dimmed the perfect record going into Saturday’s Grade II, $150,000 Robert. B. Lewis Stakes for 3-year-olds at Santa Anita, but Caracortado emerged as a bona fide Kentucky Derby prospect after knocking off such consensus top 10 designees as 11-10 favorite Tiz Chrome and 5-2 second choice American Lion.
The unbeaten gelded son of Cat Dreams, trained, bred and co-owned by Mike Machowsky and ridden by Paul Atkinson, let Tiz Chrome and American Lion knock heads early in the 1 1/16-mile event before sweeping home on the outside to score his fifth victory under Atkinson by a definitive 1 ¾ lengths. He crossed the wire in 1:41.75.
Dave in Dixie, with Joel Rosario aboard, rallied for second, one-half length ahead of American Lion and Julien Leparoux, the 2009 Eclipse Award winning rider. Tiz Chrome, a major player in trainer Bob Baffert’s potent arsenal of 3-year-olds, faded to fourth under Garrett Gomez.
As the fourth choice in an important stakes race that leads to the April 3 Santa Anita Derby, Caracortado extended his winning streak to five -- all with Atkinson aboard and each by winning margins of between 1 ½ and 1 ¾ lengths – to become a serious player on the national scene.
“This horse is very mature, he acts like an older horse,” said the 40-year-old Atkinson after alighting from but his 19th mount on the 33rd day of Santa Anita’s winter/spring meet. “You can do anything with him. You can put him on the lead or he’ll relax off the pace like he did today.
“Going down the backside, I was sitting behind the frontrunners, and I really wanted to wait a little longer with him today. But those two horses (Tiz Chrome and American Lion) that were on the lead are good horses. I didn’t want to let them get away from me. Leaving the quarter pole, I asked my horse to go, and he went. He finished up like a really nice horse.”
“I read what everybody writes about him,” Machowsky said, “that he’s kind of off-bred, not a blueblood, but he’s honest. You can’t knock that. I think using a low-profile rider probably has kept him flying under the radar, but if he’s under the radar now, he shouldn’t be.
“Paul rode him flawlessly. He’s given this horse flawless rides every time. It shows that jocks need stock under them, and trainers need stock. It doesn’t matter if Bob Baffert, Charlie Whittingham or Richard Mandella has Caracortado, or Mike Machowsky. It’s 80 percent the horse, maybe 10 percent the trainer, and 10 percent the jock. We all need the horses.”
Caracortado, whose name means “Scarface” in Spanish, paid $11, $4.60 and $2.60. The prices on Dave in Dixie were $4.40 and $3. American Lion paid $2.80. When Machowsky originally received the horse from the farm, he arrived with blue stitches and a cut across his face. His name derived from that original appearance. The Jockeys’ Club wouldn’t accept “Scarface” as a name, but the Spanish translation proved acceptable.
Owned by Mr. and Mrs. Don Blahut’s Blahut Racing and Mike Machowsky’s Lo Hi Racing, Caracortado earned $90,000 on Saturday to bring his career total to $199,200.
“We had an advantage in recency, and already having gone two turns successfully,” Machowsky said in reviewing the Lewis. “Some of the others were coming off a longer layoff than he was. We’ll look at the (Grade II, $150,000) San Felipe next (March 13) and see if (Baffert’s top ranked 3-year-old) Lookin At Lucky comes at us.”