09/30/2013 1:16PM

Breeders' Cup Classic: Five-way rematch in offing

Barbara D. Livingston
Ron the Greek, winning the Jockey Club Gold Cup, will try to improve on his fourth-place finish from last year in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

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ARCADIA, Calif. – The first four finishers from last year's Breeders’ Cup Classic plus the beaten favorite in that race all appear headed to a rematch in this year’s $5 million Classic on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita following victories by Fort Larned, Mucho Macho Man, and Ron the Greek in their final preps Saturday.

Fort Larned, last year’s Classic winner, captured the Homecoming Classic at Churchill Downs. Mucho Macho Man, second in last year’s Classic, ran perhaps the best race of his career in taking the Awesome Again here at Santa Anita. And at Belmont Park, Ron the Greek, fourth in last year’s Classic, crushed his rivals in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, including his Bill Mott-trained stablemate Flat Out, who was third in last year’s Classic.

All four were reported Monday to have come out of their races well and now will take on the 2013 divisional leader among older males, Game On Dude, who will be trying to make amends for a seventh-place finish in last year’s Classic as the 6-5 favorite. Game On Dude skipped the Awesome Again, which he won last year, to train straight into the Classic.

The victories by Fort Larned and Mucho Macho Man proved their connections made the correct decision when bypassing the Woodward Stakes at the end of August at Saratoga. Fort Larned was forced out of the race by necessity, having developed a strain in his hind end. Mucho Macho Man was scratched the day of the race because an off track. The better chance of encountering a fast track in California is what prompted his trip west for the Awesome Again.

“We wanted a dry track, and there was a better chance of getting a dry track here,” said Kathy Ritvo, who trains Mucho Macho Man. She said Mucho Macho Man would remain at Santa Anita through the Classic.

The Awesome Again and the Jockey Club Gold Cup offered fees-paid berths to the BC Classic through the Win and You’re In program.

[BREEDERS' CUP CHALLENGE: Win and You’re In schedule and results]

Paynter, who was second in the Awesome Again, also is being pointed to the Classic. Like Game On Dude, Paynter is trained by Bob Baffert.

Fort Larned “came out of the race good,” trainer Ian Wilkes said Monday morning from Kentucky.

“I’m very pleased watching him the last two days,” said Wilkes, who said Fort Larned would have the same travel schedule as last year, arriving in California early the week of the Breeders’ Cup.

“That worked, so we’ll stick with it,” he said.

The Jockey Club Gold Cup could produce as many as four starters for the Classic – Ron the Greek, Palace Malice, and Flat Out, the first three across the line, as well as Cross Traffic, who finished seventh but lost all chance with a dreadful start.

Ron the Greek has raced three times at Santa Anita. In addition to finishing fourth in last year’s BC Classic, he won the 2012 Santa Anita Handicap and was fourth in this year’s Big Cap.

Flat Out was seeking his third straight Jockey Club Gold Cup win. He raced evenly throughout, perhaps regressing off a huge effort in the Woodward in which he was beaten a head by Alpha.

Ron the Greek and Flat Out will do the bulk of their training in New York leading up to the Breeders’ Cup, Mott said. Ron the Greek will stay at Belmont, while Flat Out vanned back to Saratoga on Sunday morning.

Palace Malice, the Belmont Stakes winner, was no match for Ron the Greek in the final quarter-mile but was a clear second over Flat Out.

“I thought he ran well, second best on the day,” trainer Todd Pletcher said Sunday.

Pletcher said Palace Malice, Cross Traffic, and Graydar – who won the Kelso on Saturday at one mile in his first start since March – all will be considered for the Classic.

Cross Traffic earned a fees-paid berth into the Classic by winning the Whitney at Saratoga in August.

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Pletcher said Graydar would be considered for both the Classic and the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. Graydar won the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream and the New Orleans Handicap at Fair Grounds – both at 1 1/8 miles – earlier in the year.

“We’ll probably pre-enter in more than one spot,” Pletcher said.

Pre-entries for the Breeders’ Cup are due Oct. 21 and are announced Oct. 23. Final entries are taken and post positions drawn Oct. 28.

– additional reporting by Steve Andersen and David Grening