Mucho Macho Man, Will Take Charge Big ‘Cap Showdown Echoes 1988 Rivalry

by | 02.23.2014 | 4:16pm
Racing greats Ferdinand and Alysheba settled old scores in the 1988 Santa Anita Handicap

With Mucho Macho Man and Will Take Charge scheduled to clash in the Grade I, $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap on March 8, Jon White points out the similarity to the 1988 renewal of the 1 1/4-mile event.

“The year before the '88 Big 'Cap, Ferdinand, at four an older horse, nosed out 3-year-old Alysheba in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Hollywood Park,” White said. “And then they had a rematch in the Big 'Cap. Similarly, in the Breeders' Cup Classic last year here at Santa Anita, Mucho Macho Man, an older horse (five), won by a nose over Will Take Charge, a 3-year-old. And now they are scheduled to have a rematch in this year's Big 'Cap.”

At the time of the 1987 Breeders' Cup Classic, White was the chart-caller at the Southern California tracks for the Daily Racing Form. Consequently, he called the official chart for the 1987 Breeders' Cup Classic.

“That '87 Classic really was a Classic,” recalled White, who these days makes the morning line at Santa Anita and provides pre-race television commentary for the track's simulcast network. “It was a showdown between two Kentucky Derby winners, with the Horse of the Year title on the line. And the ride (Bill) Shoemaker gave Ferdinand that day was one of the greatest I ever saw.

“At that time, Shoe's riding career was winding down. He knew that he wouldn't be riding all that much longer and that Ferdinand might well be the best chance and possibly last chance he would ever have to ride a Breeders' Cup Classic winner. Up to that time, Shoe had never won a Breeders' Cup race. If all of that wasn't enough pressure on Shoemaker, riding Ferdinand was not easy. Ferdinand was a colt who had a tendency to pull himself up once he got in front. Let me tell you, Shoemaker's patience that afternoon was truly remarkable considering all that was at stake.”

This was what White wrote of the victorious Ferdinand in the chart for the 1987 Classic: “Ferdinand, within easy striking distance early while being patiently handled, moved up when used slightly nearing the far turn to avoid being boxed in, forced the issue on the far turn and in the upper stretch with the rider waiting as long as possible to ask his mount to go for the lead, responded willingly when asked to get a short lead leaving the sixteenth marker, then held on to prevail by a slim margin in an extremely game effort.”

“Shoemaker showed once again that he had ice water in his veins in an important race the way he sat, sat, sat from the top of the stretch until he got near the sixteenth pole,” White said. “Once he got near the sixteenth pole, he finally pushed the button, and Ferdinand went by Judge Angelucci to get the lead. (Charlie) Whittingham trained both Ferdinand and Judge Angelucci. Alysheba, who was far back early, rocketed home under Chris McCarron. But Ferdinand, thanks in large part to an absolutely perfect ride by Shoemaker, won by a nose.”

It turned out to be Shoemaker's only Breeders' Cup victory. As for Ferdinand, he was voted 1987 Eclipse Awards as champion older horse and Horse of the Year. Alysheba also was voted a 1987 Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old colt. The following March 6, they had their rematch in the Big 'Cap, with 70,432 in attendance.

In the wagering for the 1987 Breeders' Cup Classic, Ferdinand had been sent off as the even-money favorite, with Alysheba the 7-2 second choice. For their rematch in the Big 'Cap, Alysheba was the even-money favorite, with Ferdinand the 8-5 second choice.

“Alysheba raced a lot closer early in the Big 'Cap than in the Classic,” noted White, who also called the official chart of the 1988 Santa Anita Handicap. “Only four horses started in the Big 'Cap that year. Alysheba was third early, a couple of lengths or so in front of Ferdinand. Alysheba rushed to the front approaching the three-eighths pole. And right behind him, Ferdinand and Shoe also moved with a rush. All the way around the far turn, Alysheba had a short lead while being challenged by Ferdinand. The crowd went bonkers. Alysheba increased his lead to a length at the eighth pole. Ferdinand kept trying all the way to the end, but he never could get on even terms with, let alone by, Alysheba.”

The record shows that Alysheba won that thrilling 1988 Big 'Cap by a half-length over Ferdinand. Alysheba would go on to be voted 1988 Eclipse Awards as champion older horse and Horse of the Year.

“There's no doubt about it, the '88 Big 'Cap sure was a great race at The Great Race Place,” White said.

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