10/30/2013 5:28PM

Breeders' Cup Classic: Opening furlong might determine winner

Barbara D. Livingston
Mucho Macho Man, second in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic, enters Saturday's renewal off a 4 1/4-length victory in the Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita.

ARCADIA, Calif. – They’re putting the band back together! Four of the runners from last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, including the top three finishers, are set for a rematch in this year’s running Saturday at Santa Anita. What with $5 million in prize money up for grabs, they’ll be on a mission.

Fort Larned, Mucho Macho Man, and Flat Out swept the top three spots last year, with the favored Game On Dude seventh. They’re back, with three of the four hoping for a different result and seven newcomers hoping to break up the band.

A fifth horse from last year’s Classic, Ron the Greek, also was scheduled to compete, but he was withdrawn Thursday because of a quarter crack in his right front hoof. Ron the Greek finished fourth in last year’s Classic.

The Classic is run at 1 1/4 miles, yet in last year’s race, it was the first of the 10 furlongs that told the tale. Ian Wilkes, the trainer of Fort Larned, emphasized to jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. that a sharp start was paramount. Fort Larned left with alacrity, never relinquished the lead, and turned back a tenacious Mucho Macho Man to prevail by a half-length.

By contrast, Game On Dude did not leave alertly, and his fortunes tumbled from there. Usually on or near the lead, Game On Dude was seventh early, advanced as close as third, then retreated like a tortoise into his shell.

“He was out of contention the first 100 yards. It was tough to watch,” said Bob Baffert, the trainer of Game On Dude.

Again this year, “The break is going to be very important,” Baffert said.

[BREEDERS’ CUP 2013: Fields with DRF odds and comments]

Baffert, as well as bettors who are expected to make Game On Dude the favorite, will hang their hopes on the belief that Game On Dude is a better horse than a year ago. He comes into the Classic with six straight victories, five this year.

“Mentally, he’s a different horse than he was last year,” said Baffert, who has purposely given Game On Dude more time between races this year. “That’s allowed him to keep his weight on. He just keeps getting better and better. The way he’s training, he’s really on his game.”

Game On Dude will have to be on his game because he is meeting the most formidable lineup he’s seen since last year’s Classic.

Fort Larned has had a star-crossed year, one that began with him losing Hernandez at the start of the Gulfstream Park Handicap, but he comes off a win against inferior competition in the Homecoming Classic at Churchill Downs. He is expected to improve off that race because Wilkes, like his mentor, Carl Nafzger, is savvy at using preps as a means to an end.

“I’m very happy with the way my horse is doing,” Wilkes said. “I’ve got no excuses.”

Mucho Macho Man, though based in the East, has thrived in California. In addition to his gallant performance in last year’s Classic, he won the Awesome Again Stakes here last time out. In both those races, though, he had outside posts, ideal for his big, long stride. This time, he must work out a trip from post 6, inside of both Fort Larned and Game On Dude, while outside another speed horse, Moreno.

Flat Out performed admirably in last year’s Classic over a track that seemed to favor speed and compromised his late-running style. He was third most recently in the Jockey Club Gold Cup behind his Bill Mott-trained stablemate, Ron the Greek.

Palace Malice, a 3-year-old, was second in the Jockey Club Gold Cup in his first start against older runners. Though no match for Ron the Greek, he ran well in his own right, and his stalking style might be ideal in this field. If not for a dreadful trip in the Travers, Palace Malice might very well be coming into the Classic with three wins in his last four starts, beginning with the Belmont Stakes. A big, strong colt, Palace Malice has held up well through a campaign that began in January, according to trainer Todd Pletcher.

“He’s amazing,” Pletcher said. “It’s rare to have a horse run in the types of races he’s run in and continue to thrive.”

Will Take Charge beat Moreno and Palace Malice in the Travers and followed with another victory, again over Moreno, in the Pennsylvania Derby. His last three races have been the best of his career. A bigger colt than even Palace Malice, Will Take Charge has an outside post that should keep him in the clear. That should prevent him from getting stopped in traffic, but he could be forced to lose ground when rallying.

“He’s not only tall, but he’s long,” said his trainer, D. Wayne Lukas.

The European invaders Declaration of War and Planteur will try to transfer their form on turf and synthetic surfaces to dirt, over which they are competing for the first time. Declaration of War has the superior form of the two, but it’s a complete guess as to how he’ll handle the surface switch. Both are getting Lasix for the first time.

Paynter, who is making the final start of his career, deserves points for even making it this far after becoming seriously ill in the summer of 2012. He was a distant second to Mucho Macho Man in the Awesome Again last time out.

Last Gunfighter has done his best against lesser competition. He was fifth, behind Ron the Greek, Palace Malice, and Flat Out, in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

Jon More than 1 year ago
Darn I was so anxious to see Caracortado run in the turf sprint, but, too bad he will miss that race since he came up with a slight quarter crack in the right front hoof, But, in the classic, "The Dude" will bury the rest and it will be a carbon copy of Beholders race.
Debbie West More than 1 year ago
Mucho Macho Man will win this race heads up. Look for a late run from Will Take Charge - he will finish in the money but MMM will win this race! Game on Dude will finish in the money but MMM will pass him in the stretch run.
Philip C More than 1 year ago
Will Take Charge won't hit the board with that speed bias at Santa Anita.
[removed] More than 1 year ago
This comment has been deleted
Jon More than 1 year ago
"The Dude" will not be on the lead & he does not need to be. He will say bye bye to the rest at the top of the back stretch.
colt More than 1 year ago
I want all you haters to bet against the Dude I hope I get 5.20 The Dude abides this year and I'll be sipping knob creek savoring turning Benjamin into twins a grant and a gaggle of Jacksons
riggle More than 1 year ago
$5.20 for show? its a big field but $3.20 is more realistic.
Billy Spathanas More than 1 year ago
Speed favoring track. Moreno ? Oh my, I hope Gulliot doesn't win this today............
rahman Williams More than 1 year ago
CLASSIC 5,8,9...iffy on the 10
Roy Roy More than 1 year ago
bill n More than 1 year ago
So many intestinal issues lately. It is actually scary.
John Bradley More than 1 year ago
This is not fair. Who's to blame? Break 2nd and that's as good as you can finish. Billions of dollars in cash and horseflesh can now be called the greatest dog racing program of all-time
riggle More than 1 year ago
Game on Dude will not be higher than 3rd when this races finishes, there is just too much pace for him to contend with, am taking my chances with Flat Out, whose jock (Joel Rosario) is on course for a very unique TRIPLE.............Kentucky Derby, Dubai World Cup and if he should win this, the Breeders Cup Classic.......................Planteur deserves a very serious look in as well he ran third to Animal Kingdom in the DWC earlier this year.
Matt D. More than 1 year ago
When I first read the headline 24 hours ago I thought it was ridiculous, preposterous and damn near comical. I'm not laughing now. The winner of the two turn Breeders Cup mile goes sub 44 & 4/5s and is never seriously threatened in the stretch. Was I watching the second coming of Dr. Fager or a solid middle distance speed type taking advantage of the track conditions?