Calder-based horses swept the two graded stakes held at Gulfstream Park this past weekend as last year’s Fred Hooper Handicap and Tropical Park Derby winner Csaba proved best when favored in Sunday’s Grade 3 Hal’s Hope, one day after 2012 Needles Stakes winner Mucho Mas Macho upset the Grade 2 Fort Lauderdale Stakes at odds of 41-1.
“He's certainly bearing out now what we felt about him last year,” trainer Phil Gleaves said following Csaba’s victory, the colt’s fourth straight dating back to mid-October. “We wanted to go on the Derby trail last year but that didn't pan out, but we've always thought highly of him and he's showing it now.”
After a disappointing seventh-place performance in the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby in September, Csaba returned to Calder where he began his current streak with a 14-length victory in the Tropical Park Derby, a win that had Gleaves thinking, albeit briefly, about taking a shot at the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
Opting for a more conservative route, Csaba remained in south Florida where the colt dead-heated for victory in the Fred Hooper before heading to the other side of town where he won the $100,000 Harlan’s Holiday in advance of his Sunday score.
Gleaves has indicated that should Csaba stay in form, a start in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap on February 9 could be next for the son of Kitten’s Joy.
Much like Gleaves, conditioner Henry Collazo held high expectations for his trainee Mucho Mas Macho, even as the son of Macho Uno began his career with just one victory in 12 starts.
“Ever since he was a 2-year-old, I’ve been saying, ‘More distance and a little bit more maturity, the sky is the limit,’” Collazo said. “And ever since he went on the grass, and I saw his stride on grass, I told the owner that we got to stay on the grass; and the further the better.”
That prognostication proved correct as Mucho Mas Macho got his second career win in an entry-level turf allowance at Calder in June, a result that was improved upon two months later when a second-level allowance, and then the Needles Stakes, were captured. A runner-up performance in the Grade 2 W. L. Mc Knight followed, setting up Saturday’s winning run in the Fort Lauderdale.
“This was a stepping stone,” Collazo said. “The way I have his year planned out, we're going to go probably to the Mac Diarmida and then to the Pan American.”