The victory probably locks up the Eclipse Award for champion older male and Mucho Macho Man will be a candidate for Horse of the Year along with Wise Dan, who captured the Breeders’ Cup Mile one race earlier on the program.
Gary Stevens, who picked up the mount in his previous start, delivered the well-timed ride aboard Mucho Macho Man. The 5-year-old just missed when finishing a close second in the 2012 Classic at Santa Anita, but the wire came in time this year as he prevailed by a nose in the photo finish.
“This was a tremendous experience to win this race at my age (50),” said the Hall of Famer Stevens, who returned from a seven-year retirement earlier this year and earned his first Classic win. “I never expected to be in this situation. This is the ultimate feeling, it’s the icing on the cake of my career.”
The final time for the 1 1/4-mile race was a respectable 2:00 3/5, and Mucho Macho Man paid $10 to win as the 4-1 second choice among 11 Classic rivals.
Mucho Macho Man rated fifth behind dueling front-runners before advancing into contention under confident handling, edging past defending Classic champion Fort Larned to take the lead in the stretch drive. He appeared momentarily to be on his way to a comfortable victory, but Will Take Charge came flying late to offer a serious challenge.
“It’s a heartbreak to lose one like that,” trainer D. Wayne Lukas said of the runner-up. “He was after him, closed on him and did everything right.”
Owned by Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, Mucho Macho Man gave trainer Kathy Ritvo the biggest victory of her career. Based on the East Coast, the bay Florida-bred horse shipped west to post his first Grade 1 stakes tally in his previous outing, capturing the September 28 Awesome Again by open lengths, and continued to show his affinity for Santa Anita on Saturday. Ritvo became the first woman to train a horse to a Classic win.
“I’m happier for my horse. He deserves it,” Ritvo said. “He got a great trip. Gary did a fantastic job.”
With the $2.75 million payday, Mucho Macho Man has now bankrolled $4,340,410 from a 23-8-5-6 career record.
Will Take Charge was no factor when recording unplaced finishes in all three Triple Crown events, but the 3-year-old colt has turned things around impressively, winning the $1 million Travers Stakes and $1 million Pennsylvania Derby prior to his outstanding Classic effort. He figures to be a top older horse in 2014.
Irish invader Declaration of War lacked the necessary late rally but turned in a commendable performance in third, finishing a head back of Will Take Charge. It was another 3 1/4 lengths back to fourth-placer Fort Larned.
The Last Gunfighter, Palace Malice, Paynter and Flat Out came next under the wire. Game On Dude, the 8-5 favorite in his third Classic attempt, was prominent most of the way before fading to ninth in the latter stages. Moreno and Planteur rounded out the order of finish, and Ron the Greek was scratched.
This marked the 10th time in 30 runnings of the Classic that the outcome was decided by a neck or less.