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Petro looking forward to Mucho Macho Man's return

Mucho Macho Man will be an odds-on favorite against five rivals Saturday  (Breeders' Cup Ltd)

It was the winter of 2012 when Nick Petro Jr. first climbed aboard a towering son of Macho Uno in the weeks leading up to the Sunshine Millions Classic. He has been there ever since.

Petro, 29, is the regular exercise rider for Breeders' Cup Classic winner Mucho Macho Man, who won the Sunshine Millions Classic in 2012 and would go on to end 2013 with a pair of Grade 1 victories, including the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita.

Trained by Petro's aunt, Kathy Ritvo, Mucho Macho Man will make his 2014 debut against five challengers in the $400,000 Sunshine Millions Classic on Saturday. The Horse of the Year finalist schooled in Gulfstream's paddock during Thursday's first race.

"He's been doing great," Petro said. "He couldn't be doing any better. He's been much better than last year. After winning the Breeders' Cup, he's got a lot more confidence out of it. I think he's doing much better this year."

Ritvo also noted Mucho Macho Man's well-being.

"He came out of his win in the Breeders' Cup Classic great and he's coming into this race great," Ritvo said as she watched Mucho Macho Man school in a walking ring surrounded by fans. "It's going to be an exciting day."

Though he has been ridden by nine jockeys in his career, including three Hall of Famers, no one has been on Mucho Macho Man more than Petro, whose father, Nick, has 1,852 career wins as a jockey since 1982. The younger Petro had a brief turn as a jockey himself, going winless in 14 lifetime mounts, 12 of them in 2008. He began working for his uncle, Michael Petro, in Delaware before joining forces with Ritvo and Mucho Macho Man.

"I've always been working for family. It's a good thing to be around," Petro said. "Everybody takes care of you. Nobody's out to hurt anybody."

Friendly and easy-going by nature, Petro is all business when it comes to Mucho Macho Man and takes great pride in his role with the multiple stakes winner.

"The best way to explain him is like it's driving a car," Petro said. "You can drive a nice car slow, but you know you've got a ton of gas underneath you. That's basically what it is. You've got your feel on the dashboard the whole time. He's like a train.

"Of course, it's a big responsibility but I think it's a big advantage, too. One person can know one horse a lot better than a few people getting on him. I know him better than I know any horse that I've ever been on before. It's a good thing to have that kind of knowledge with him."

Petro knows first-hand how Mucho Macho Man has the personality to match his talent.

"He's a funny horse," he said. "When he sees a horse he doesn't know, he'll mess with him and try to scare him, but he's been out there with Groupie Doll and Royal Delta. When he sees a nice mare like that, he behaves himself. He stands right next to them and minds his own business. He's really funny. He knows what he can get away with and what he can't."

When Mucho Macho Man went out to California to win both the Awesome Again and the Breeders' Cup Classic, Petro was part of the group that accompanied him. The previous year, Mucho Macho Man ran second by a half-length to Fort Larned in the Classic.

"I'm still trying to wrap my head around it (winning the Classic), if you want the truth," Petro said. "It's crazy; it's pretty amazing if you think about all the great horses that have done it, and just to be a part of it.

"It was redemption, too, coming back from being second the year before. If we had run second by a nose this year, it would have been terrible. It was nice to come back and get the job done."

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