BALTIMORE — He is considered by many a prime candidate to play the role of spoiler in the 135th Preakness Stakes, the proverbial dangerous new shooter with back class and fresh form.
Without question, graded stakes winner Caracortado commands a dose of respect as he prepares to face Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver and 10 others in the middle jewel of the Triple Crown.
But if not for the faith his trainer/breeder showed long before he started racing, the horse would not even be in the starting gate Saturday.
If trainer Mike Machowsky seems confident in his decision to send Caracortado into the 13⁄16-mile Preakness Stakes, it's because every gamble he has taken with the talented gelding has panned out.
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Eight years ago, Machowsky bought a Maria's Mon filly named Mons Venus for $45,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale with the hope her solid pedigree would give him another solid runner.
Because of various ailments, however, Mons Venus never made a start. Since his partners at the time wanted nothing to do with the breeding end of the business, Machowsky kept the mare for himself and eventually sent her to the little-known sire Cat Dreams, who currently stands in Indiana for $1,500.
The resulting foal turned out to be one of the more promising runners Machowsky has ever trained. More than 20 years after opening his own stable, the 44-year-old Cincinnati native will be rewarded with his first starter in a Triple Crown race when Caracortado enters the Pimlico gate.
"We go out looking for ones like him all the time and when you breed one and they fall into your lap like that, it's pretty amazing," said Machowsky, who owns Caracortado in partnership with Donald Blahut. "I bought (Mons Venus) as a yearling, but ... her ankles kept filling up, and she was one of those fillies who would (cramp) on you, and I just couldn't get her past that.
"Nobody really had any interest in breeding her except for me. But she trained like she could really run, and that's why I took a shot with her. We took a shot and got lucky."
His parents might not have accomplished much, but Caracortado has done his best to elevate his lineage.
Thrown into a $40,000 maiden claiming race in his career debut in September, the chestnut gelding ran off to a 13/4-length victory in a 4-furlong race over the dirt at Fairplex in California.
Though he was soon switched to synthetic tracks, Caracortado continued to establish himself as one to watch on the West Coast.
He won his next three starts to close out his juvenile campaign 4-for-4 and demonstrated versatility in his running style — winning from the lead and off the pace, including a victory in the 11⁄16-mile California Breeders' Championship Stakes on Dec. 26.
"He showed a lot of ability that day, and ... we started getting excited then," Machowsky said.
Caracortado looked to be on a path to the Kentucky Derby when he opened his 2010 season with a 13/4-length win in the Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita Park on Feb. 13. He then ran third behind Sidney's Candy in the Grade II San Felipe.
His fourth-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby left him short of the graded stakes earnings necessary to ensure a spot in the Kentucky Derby, but Caracortado developed a foot abscess soon after that would have kept him out of the race anyway.
Should he win on Saturday, that little setback might turn out to be a blessing in disguise for Machowsky. While the five holdovers from the Derby have the challenge of running two grueling races in as many weeks, Caracortado will be making his first start since April 3.
"I don't think he's under the radar, I think he's the smart horse that a lot of guys are looking at," Machowsky said. "He's fresh, and he's drawn well (post No. 9), and it's been a tough campaign already for a lot of horses that had to run in the Derby."