Pegasus Winner Mucho Gusto ‘The Gift Who Keeps On Giving’

by | 01.29.2020 | 6:41pm
Mucho Gusto, under Irad Ortiz Jr., in the Gulfstream Park winner's circle after the Pegasus World Cup

Everyone whose hands have touched Mucho Gusto, 4 ½-length winner of Saturday's Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational, were smiling in the wake of the Mucho Macho Man colt's performance in the $3-million race at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla.

And a lot of people have had a hand in the success of Mucho Gusto, who was bred in Kentucky by a Peruvian family, offered at public auction on four different occasions and finally sold privately to a Saudi prince months before his biggest career victory.

The Pegasus winner's story begins at Ted Kuster and Matt Koch's Shawhan Place in Paris, Ky., where Mucho Gusto was born and raised. His breeders are Teneri Farm Inc., and Bernardo Alvarez-Calderon. The latter is a horseman from Peru who has been breeding Thoroughbreds in his native land for nearly 50 years and was formerly an accomplished show-jump rider who represented Peru in international competition. Father of six children, some of whom followed Alvarez-Calderon into the equestrian world, he named his farm Teneri because of his appreciation for the legendary Italian breeder Federico Tesio and two of the most significant horses he bred, Nearco and Ribot. (Teneri consists of the first two letters of the three names.)

Mucho Gusto, produced from the Giant's Causeway mare Itsagiantcauseway (bred by Zayat Stables), brought $14,000 when Shawhan Place consigned him to the 2017 Keeneland January Sale of Horses of All Ages.

The colt's buyer was Kelly Lively of Ocala, Fla., daughter-in-law of retired jockey John Lively. He was the only horse purchased that year by Lively, who prepped Mucho Gusto for the fall yearling sales on her five-acre farm near Ocala.

“Me and a couple of friends try to buy one or two horses each year to re-sell,” said Lively, who works for consignors Select Sales and de Meric Stables and Sales when she isn't selling real estate in Central Florida.

“The only problem I ever had with him, a week or so before the sale (Keeneland September Yearling Sale), a hurricane was coming through Florida and the barn flooded. He cut open his shoulder.”

That didn't seem to hurt the colt's sale price when offered by Select Sales at Keeneland, where California attorney Steve Schwartz bought him as agent for $95,000 – the eighth highest price of 35 yearlings sold from the first crop by Breeders' Cup Classic winner Mucho Macho Man, a son of the Holy Bull stallion Macho Uno. Lively turned a nice profit with the pinhook.

Schwartz turned Mucho Gusto over to Kip Elser, whose Kirkwood Stables are based in Camden, S.C., to prepare for a juvenile sale. “He's a good judge of a yearling,” Elser said of Schwartz, who trained horses for a few years in Southern California. “He does two or three a year.”

Elser entered Mucho Gusto in the 2018 OBS March Sale and there were no takers. Bidding stopped at $55,000 and a mystified Elser bought him back.

“He breezed in 10 flat (for one furlong) and went well, but was completely ignored,” Elser remembered. “He got no attention.”

When Elser entered Mucho Gusto in Fasig-Tipton's Midlantic Sale of 2-year-olds in training in Maryland two months later, it was a completely different story. After zipping a quarter mile in :21 1/5 on a sloppy Timonium racetrack, he brought a final bid of $625,000 from Donato Lanni on behalf of a relatively new owner, Michael Lund Petersen, the Pandora Jewelry magnate who resides on a farm nearby in suburban Baltimore.

That's some serious inflation from March to May. What happened?

Bob Baffert, Mucho Gusto's trainer, said he remembers seeing the colt's OBS workout and was not impressed.

“He never switched leads,” Baffert recalled of the work over the OBS synthetic track. “A lot of times when they never switch, you can get turned off.”

Lively, who watched her pinhooked colt breeze at OBS, agreed.

“They don't really separate on the synthetic,” Lively said. “There were a bunch of 9 4/5 works and he went in 10 flat. I thought he looked great, but he didn't switch leads.”

“When he worked at Timonium it was a wet track and he blitzed around there,” Baffert said. “He went unbelievably well. That's why when I entered him at Gulfstream (for the Pegasus), I was hoping it would rain.”

The Midlantic Sale takes place the week after the Preakness and Baffert recalls looking at the colt in Elser's consignment the day after Justify won the middle jewel of the Triple Crown. “He was one of the standouts,” Baffert recalled, “but I didn't think he'd bring that much.”

So Schwartz, like Lively before him, scored a pinhooking home run when the horse he bought for $95,000 sold for $625,000.

Mucho Gusto went straight into stakes company after breaking his maiden for Baffert at Los Alamitos on Sept. 20 of his 2-year-old season. He won the G3 Bob Hope Stakes going seven furlongs at Del Mar Nov. 17, then finished second behind Improbable in the G1 Los Alamitos Futurity at 1 1/16 miles on Dec. 8.

Mucho Gusto continued on the Kentucky Derby trail after winning his 3-year-old debut at Santa Anita, the G3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes, contested over a sloppy track Feb. 2. But Petersen's hopes of getting to Churchill Downs with his second Kentucky Derby starter (Mor Spirit carried his silks to a 10th-place finish in 2016) were dashed when Mucho Gusto finished third after setting fast fractions in the G3 Sunland Park Derby in New Mexico.

After a summer campaign that saw victories in a pair of G3 stakes at Santa Anita, Mucho Gusto finished second behind eventual 3-year-old champion Maximum Security in the G1 Haskell, then was third behind Code of Honor and Tacitus in the G1 Travers.

His final start of 2019 was something of a puzzler, finishing fourth as the 9-10 favorite in the G3 Oklahoma Derby at Remington Park.

In between the Travers and the Oklahoma Derby, an individual acting on behalf of Saudi Prince Faisal Bin Khaled contacted Baffert in an effort to buy Mucho Gusto from Petersen. The offer was turned down.

“They kept upping the price,” Baffert said. “I said, 'It's got to be a good offer because Michael Lund really likes this horse.'”

A deal was struck after the Oklahoma Derby in October to sell Mucho Gusto for an undisclosed sum. Petersen's colt had won $779,800 on the track, and the price of the private transaction clearly put him in the black.

Victory in the Pegasus gave Prince Faisal Bin Khaled the winner's share of $1,662,000, which probably gave him a healthy share of the price he paid to acquire Mucho Gusto. More importantly, the triumph gave him a runner in his country's inaugural $20-million Saudi Cup, where Baffert will also be saddling G1 Breeders' Cup Classic runner-up McKinzie.

“I love a horse who does well for everybody,” said Lively, who went to Gulfstream for the Pegasus, calling it “probably the most exciting day of racing in my life. He's such a sound horse. He may not be the best horse, but he always tries.”

You might think the breeders of Mucho Gusto are the only ones who didn't make out okay in the various transactions, since he sold for just $14,000 as a January yearling.

But Gus Koch of Shawhan Place was quick to remind that the Alvarez-Calderon family still owns the mare who produced the Pegasus winner. “The plan is go to Medaglia d'Oro with her,” said Koch. “They are longtime clients, fantastic people, and we are over the moon for them and their success. Mr. Alvarez-Calderon has been breeding horses his entire life, and to win a race like the Pegasus in a thrilling moment for all involved.”

As Kelly Lively put it, “Much Gusto is the gift who keeps on giving.”

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