Mucho Macho Man gave Gary Stevens his first Breeders' Cup Classic victory at Santa Anita Park on Saturday, just holding off 3-year-old Will Take Charge by a nose after a thrilling stretch run before a crowd of 58,795. Stevens, a 50-year-old Hall of Fame rider, came out of retirement earlier this year and was riding in the Classic for the 15th time. He is the only jockey to ride in the first Breeders' Cup at Hollywood Park in 1984 and the 30th this year.
European Declaration of War was a head behind Will Take Charge in third, with 2012 Classic winner Fort Larned fourth, 3 1/4 lengths farther back, and Last Gunfighter fifth in the mile and a quarter contest clocked in 2:00.72. Palace Malice was sixth, followed by Paynter and Flat Out. Favored Game On Dude, who was in the driver's seat in the Horse of the Year picture after winning his previous five races this year, bid for the lead with five-sixteenths of a mile to run but faded badly in the final quarter mile to be ninth, well beaten as the favorite for the second consecutive year. Moreno tired to be ninth and Planteur was last of the 11 runners. Ron the Greek was scratched from the race because of a quarter crack.
Mucho Macho Man, a Florida-bred 5-year-old by Macho Uno out of Ponche de Leona, by Ponche, finished second to Fort Larned in last year's Classic under another Hall of Fame jockey, Mike Smith, who was aboard Game On Dude in this year's Classic.
Moreno battled for the early lead with Fort Larned, going the opening quarter mile in :23.39 and the half in :46.36. Game On Dude was in close pursuit in third, with Mucho Macho Man fourth on the outside in the run down the backstretch and Declaration of War fifth. Six furlongs was clocked in 1:10.23.
Fort Larned took the lead briefly after reaching the far turn, but Stevens confidently Guided Mucho Macho Man to the front with a three-wide move, the mile fraction timed in 1:34.84. Declaration of War, making his first start on dirt for Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien, tried to make a race of it under the trainer's son, Joseph, but Stevens and Mucho Macho Man got the jump on them. Victory for Stevens and Mucho Macho Man seemed assured, but in the final yards Luis Saez had Will Take Charge in full flight on the outside and just missed.
“I really thought he got us – it was scary,” Dean Reeves said afterwards.
Kathy Ritvo trains the Classic winner for Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, the racing stable of of Dean and Patti Reeves of Atlanta, Ga. Mucho Macho Man was bred by John and Carole Rio of Ocala, Fla.
The outcome tilts the Horse of the Year picture toward the reigning champion, Wise Dan, who successfully defended his title in the Mile and is six for seven on the year, all of the wins on turf and three in G1 races. A victory by Game On Dude would likely have given him the title. Disappointing races by Royal Delta and Princess of Sylmar in the Distaff on Friday ended any outside hopes they had. Likewise for 3-year-olds Palace Malice and Will Take Charge, though the latter's strong second-place effort likely sewed up his title as champion 3-year-old male.
Mucho Macho Man won only one previous race this year – the G1 Awesome Again at Santa Anita in late September. He's eight for 23 lifetime and two for five this year. Is that enough to dethrone Wise Dan?
Gary Stevens (jockey, Mucho Macho Man, 1st) – “This was a tremendous experience to win this race at my age (50). I never expected to be in this situation. This is the ultimate feeling. It's the icing on the cake of my career.”
Kathy Ritvo (trainer, Mucho Macho Man, 1st) – “I'm happier for my horse. He deserves it. When (jockey) Gary (Stevens) waved the stick, I figured he won. He got a great trip. Gary did a fantastic job. When he used 'Macho,' 'Macho' showed up. He is a good horse. I'm excited. If I didn't have the support of my family, I wouldn't be here.”
Luis Saez (jockey, Will Take Charge, 2nd) – “We had a good trip. Every time I ride this horse he's always very steady early in the race, when you turn for home, he's a totally different horse. In the stretch, the 8 horse (Palace Malice) drifted out a bit and that forced me even wider and yes, it probably cost me the race.”
D. Wayne Lukas (trainer, Will Take Charge, 2nd) –“It's a heartbreak to lose one like that. He was after him, closed on him and did everything right.”
Did you think you had won?: “The first time by, I said no. The second time, I thought he won it. The third time they ran it by, I said, 'No, he was second.'”
On the horse: “He's really developed into a beautiful horse and he did everything right today. It's just a heartbreak that he lost. He did everything right. The jump after the wire we got him.”
How tough are these loses?: “Tough. That one ate me up. I realize the ups and downs of it better than probably most, but those are hard to take. This is the ultimate. Other than the Derby, this is the one you want. I thought we had a shot to get it today and just came up a jump short.”
Did you think Mucho Macho Man was the one to beat? “No. I respected everybody. I thought there were five or six horses in there that you really had to watch out for. He was one, obviously. Gary is riding in a zone. I think we jump-started him in the Preakness pretty good.”
Aidan O'Brien (trainer, Declaration of War, 3rd) – “He ran a great race. He fought all the way to the wire. He was always going nicely and held his position well. I couldn't believe how well he was going. I would like to thank my team for letting me run him here. It's a privilege to be here… and to be able to bring good horses here. Joseph (O'Brien) did everything right on the horse.”
Joseph O'Brien (jockey, Declaration of War, 3rd) – “He's run a great race. It took him about a furlong to settle and then he got into a lovely rhythm. I had to wait a little bit for the gap to come at the head of the stretch, but he ran on really well and I have no complaints.”
Ian Wilkes (trainer, Fort Larned, 4th) – “It is emotional because it's his last race. He laid his body down today. My hat's off to Mucho Macho Man. He made a great comeback. I knew my horse would bring his A game and he did. He definitely didn't disgrace himself. He put the two speed horses away and they aren't slouches.”
Brian Hernandez Jr. (trainer, Fort Larned, 4th) – “He ran great. I had a lot of horse turning for home and after he put Game On Dude away, I still had a lot of horse. But, then here came the 6 (Mucho Macho Man).”
Chad Brown (trainer, Last Gunfighter, 5th) – “He ran great. I think that's about as good as he can run and Javier rode him well. Our plan was to sit back and let them mix it up early. We thought there would be a strong pace, and it was, then come late to get a piece of it. We weren't far off from getting fourth, really. Fifth place is respectable. I'm proud of my horse. We'll regroup for next year.
Javier Castellano (trainer, Last Gunfighter, 5th) – “He ran a good race. He was a big longshot and I just wanted to save some ground with him and try to pick up a check. I wished he could have gotten up for fourth, but he ran a very nice race.”
Todd Pletcher (trainer, Palace Malice, 6th) – “He sort of missed the break and then he put in a good run. I'm disappointed.”
Rafael Bejarano (jockey, Palace Malice, 6th) – “I had a little problem at the break. He broke a step slow. He didn't feel that comfortable on the track.”
Bob Baffert (trainer, Paynter, 7th and Game On Dude, 9th) – “When I saw him (Game On Dude) going real fast on the backstretch, I knew I was going to be in trouble. Then when Mike asked him, there was nothing there. I feel bad I got beat; you always feel bad when you get beat, but I feel worse for the horse. My other horse (Paynter) gave it his best.”
Martin Garcia (jockey, Paynter, 7th) – “It was a very tight race. I was in tight quarters a lot. When I finally got out, he tried real hard to run.”
Joel Rosario (jockey, Flat Out, 8th) – “We had a perfect trip. He just didn't fire at all. He just didn't run his race today.”
Mike Smith (jockey, Game On Dude, 9th) – “The pace was real fast. I didn't know what else to do. Do I take back or not? He's a free-running horse and I already have a pretty good hold on him. I tried to ease out and see if he'd drop in a little on me and he was on it. The crowd was screaming and he was on it then. Gary (Stevens on winner Mucho Macho Man) was right there too. He was in front of us a little while and then he eased back and when he did that, he knew it was the winning move. He was right there and I thought, 'Wow, he's taking it to me quick.' He (Gary) did a great job. The point I knew my horse wasn't going to get it was on the backside when Gary came to me, I squeezed him a little to put some distance between us and I couldn't. I knew I was in trouble right then. The weekend has been great, but I wish my two big horses (Game On Dude and Royal Delta in Friday's Distaff) would have run better.”
Ryan Moore (jockey, Planteur, 11th) – “It's a Breeders' Cup Classic. It's going to be competitive. He actually traveled quite well in the race, but at the business end of it all, it became a little much for him. He was going well for a while, but the dirt just got in his face.”
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