03/06/2014 4:07PM

Santa Anita Handicap: Mucho Macho Man, Will Take Charge in BC Classic rematch

Shigeki Kikkawa
Mucho Macho Man trains at Santa Anita on Sunday. He comes into the Santa Anita Handicap off a 14-length romp in the Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Mucho Macho Man was fresh from a win in the Awesome Again Stakes here last September and approaching the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita, when trainer Kathy Ritvo and jockey Gary Stevens had a prerace strategy talk before the big race on Nov. 2.

“Kathy said, ‘Is there anything we can do to make your job easier,’” Stevens recalled on Thursday. “I said, ‘Bring the same horse over you did for the Awesome Again in the Classic.’

“She said, ‘We’re bringing a better horse.’”

[DRF Live: Get live reports and handicapping insights from DRF writers and handicappers this Saturday]

Mucho Macho Man won the Classic by a nose, holding off a fast-closing Will Take Charge.

Saturday at Santa Anita, they meet for the first time since that race in the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap at 1 1/4 miles. Stevens has no shortage of confidence in Mucho Macho Man, who races for Dean and Patti Reeves and Santa Anita racetrack owner Frank Stronach.

Stevens was aboard the 6-year-old Mucho Macho Man for his 2014 debut in the Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park. Mucho Macho Man won the race for Florida-breds by 14 lengths.

“I think it’s great to be coming off a big race like that,” Ritvo said on Wednesday. “He’s strong. It gives you a lot of confidence. He thinks he’s the man.”

The Big Cap is the ninth race on a strong 11-race program that begins at noon Pacific. There are four other stakes on the program – the Grade 2, $300,000 San Felipe Stakes for 3-year-olds, the $75,000 China Doll Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on turf, the Grade 2, $250,000 San Carlos Stakes for sprinters, and the Grade 1, $350,000 Frank E. Kilroe Mile on turf.

The Big Cap drew a field of eight, and there is more to the race than Mucho Macho Man and Will Take Charge.

Game On Dude, who won the Big Cap in 2011 and 2013, will try to become the first three-time winner in the 77th running of the race. The stakes winners Blingo, Hear the Ghost, and Rousing Sermon are each after a first win in a Grade 1. American Blend and Imperative have yet to win a stakes, and it would be a shock if either won the Santa Anita Handicap, the richest race of the meeting for older horses.

Game On Dude has won 15 of 30 starts and earned $5,713,893. Mucho Macho Man has won 9 of 24 starts and earned $5,580,410. Will Take Charge has won 6 of 16 starts and earned $3,155,148.

Game On Dude was favored to win the BC Classic last November, but faded from the lead on the backstretch and finished ninth. Trained by Bob Baffert, Game On Dude was a game second to Will Take Charge in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs on Nov. 29, leading by 2 1/2 lengths in the stretch before losing by a head.

In his 2014 debut, Game On Dude was fifth as the 3-10 favorite in the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes. Ridden by Mike Smith, Game On Dude was part of an early speed duel with Blueskiesnrainbows and faded from contention through the stretch, losing to winner Blingo by 6 1/2 lengths.

“I think he might have been a little too fresh,” Baffert said earlier this week. “Both jockeys were trying to make the lead and turned it into a runaway. It took its toll.

“I think he probably needed a race like that. Mike Smith said he took care of him when he knew he wouldn’t hit the board. He wasn’t too hard on him.”

Game On Dude is expected to set the pace in the Big Cap. Now 7, Game On Dude led throughout the 2013 race, winning by a record margin of 7 3/4 lengths.

“He’s got a certain running style and things have to go well for him or he’s not effective,” Baffert said. “He likes to go fast, but not too fast. He has to be in the fight early. It will be a reasonable pace. It has to unfold the right way for him.”

Will Take Charge, trained by D. Wayne Lukas, was second in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 9 in his 2014 debut, closing well through the stretch to finish 1 1/2 lengths behind Lea. The winner of the Travers Stakes at Saratoga last August, Will Take Charge drew the rail in the Big Cap and will be ridden by regular rider Luis Saez.

[Santa Anita Handicap: Get PPs, watch Saturday's card live]

Will Take Charge, who won the Eclipse Award as the nation’s outstanding 3-year-old male of 2013, races for Willis Horton and Three Chimneys Farm. Horton watched the Donn in frustration, wishing Will Take Charge had not raced behind horses on the inside part of the track.

“We had three horses in front of us and two outside and we never could get through,” Horton said earlier this week. “He made up a tremendous amount of ground on a speed-biased track.

“We’ll be laying close in the Santa Anita Handicap. We feel strong that we’ll win that race on Saturday, even though we’ve got stiff competition. This could be the race of a lifetime to see.”

Mike Rozier More than 1 year ago
That was impressive. Maybe Game On Dude's best race of his career. After disappointing performances in the last 2 Breeder's Cup at his home track, is was great to see Game On Dude step it up against quality competition like Mucho Macho Man and Will Take Charge.
rahman Williams More than 1 year ago
Here is the excuse box, lets fill it up with complaints from 200lb jockeys and Conspiracy Theorist.Lol
rahman Williams More than 1 year ago
Well here the ghost and Conquest Titan look bad oh well. GAME ON dude ran a great race today. Put horses on a lead anything can happen. That is why I like Bob Baffert. War emblem brought me back into racing. I love front runners its my weakness.
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
I now eat my own words and my hat is off to Game on Dude.
rahman Williams More than 1 year ago
I can respect that. Now where is Horses cents
Hail No More than 1 year ago
and the track was NOT concrete, say's Mucho a lot about BC "conditions",,
Meydan Rocks More than 1 year ago
Jordan More than 1 year ago
Take my hat as well. I thought Dude was done. Severely wrong. And I'm a huge fan of Dude.
rahman Williams More than 1 year ago
Here the ghost. 8 with 1,3,5,7 box exacta.
Scott More than 1 year ago
After watching the San Felipe, I wonder if there's a speed bias today. If there is, then Game On Dude will likely be there for the whole race. Mucho Macho Man likes to run close to the pace, so he might be able to overcome the potential bias in the stretch, but none of the other horses will be able to. So, cover those two on top and the only horses I like for the distance for 3rd is Will Take Charge and Imperative. Coupled with the potential bias and both of these should get up for a piece. I don't want to sound like a Game On Dude apologist though. He is a horse that truly needs things his own way these days to get home. He might get his way today, because other than MMM I just don't see any of the others in this field that really want to run with him. Very interesting race!!! Can't wait! If you think there's no bias, then you really need to still consider GOD due to the lack of pace in this one. The return probably won't be worth it, but you can box the top 3: Mucho Macho Man, Will Take Charge and Game On Dude. Again, the only other horse that really seems to have the pedigree and talent to run with these 3 is Imperative. Rousing Sermon just isn't fast enough even with a complete meltdown taking out MMM and GOD (which won't happen with the two HOF Jockeys at the controls), he's still probably only good enough to finish 3rd behind Will Take Charge and Imperative.
Billy Spathanas More than 1 year ago
Hear the Ghost ALL with ALL Hear the Ghost.... TVG offers double the odds if the winner wins by 2 lengths or more.... I am taking it and feel confident I am getting paid today..... Hear the Ghost......
Doug More than 1 year ago
Nice to read a non-DRF+ article. I enjoy reading everyone's post and opinion.
Doug More than 1 year ago
Will Take Charge/Mucho Macho Man/Hear the Ghost
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Sounds like Baffert is making excuses just to get to the paddock. Game on Dude folds his tent at the 5/8 pole - Can Saez catch Stevens and outride him from there?
Shawn Britton More than 1 year ago
I hope MMM wins but WTC is a monster! WTC owner believes he is winning this race. I feel WTC is due for a clunker