Archive for Mucho Macho Man

2014 Big Cap Showcased Old Warriors

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Eric Mitchell of…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Dude the Redeemer

God love the seasoned warriors; the ones who rise up and reclaim glory in stunning fashion when everyone else has begun writing them off.

During the Sochi Winter Olympics, Austrian skier Mario Matt, two months shy of his 35th birthday, handled a tricky slalom course on challenging soft snow to become the oldest Alpine gold medalist in Olympics history. The course was so tough—termed brutal by some—that five of the eight top skiers from the first of two rounds failed to finish the course.

Matt’s experience, talent, and will to win allowed him to shine against some of the world’s most talented and much younger skiers.

“He’s a tremendous competitor, a game-day guy,” said U.S. men’s head coach Sasha Rearick.

Game On Dude gave racing the same type of performance March 8 in one of the most exciting Santa Anita Handicaps (gr. I) seen in many years.

Santa Anita Park is home base for the 7-year-old son of Awesome Again, but the Southern California track has been the site of as much heartbreak as triumph for him. Just four months ago Game On Dude was favored to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) after a sterling run of five consecutive graded stakes victories, including a 73⁄4-length romp in last year’s Big ’Cap. The gelding, however, finished ninth in the Classic, 11 lengths behind winner Mucho Macho Man and nosed-out second Will Take Charge. Game On Dude had been the favorite in the 2012 Classic, also at Santa Anita, and finished 15 lengths back in seventh.

The Dude ended last year with a good second to Will Take Charge in the Clark Handicap (gr. I), so a strong start this year would have restored the faith of many. But that didn’t happen. Instead, Game On Dude finished fifth in the grade II San Antonio Stakes against much softer competition than he would face in the Big ’Cap. The only other graded stakes winners in the field were Blueskiesnrainbows, who had just won the grade II San Pasqual Stakes, and Willyconker, who had won the grade I Frank E. Kilroe Mile Stakes in 2012 but had not won or placed in a stakes all last year.

So the speculation began. Had the Dude lost his edge?

Trainer Bob Baffert took the heat for the San Antonio loss, saying he didn’t have Game On Dude prepared. Then he stewed over the naysayers.
“Bob’s proud of Game On Dude,” said jockey Mike Smith. “He’s like family to him. When you knock him, you’re walking on the fightin’ side of Bob, I guess, like it says in the old country song that Merle Haggard used to sing.”

The Big ’Cap wound up being the perfect stage for redemption: a rematch with Mucho Macho Man and Will Take Charge at Santa Anita along with the top three finishers from the San Antonio—Blingo, Imperative, and American Blend—and grade II winner Hear the Ghost from the always dangerous barn of Jerry Hollendorfer. The doubt hanging over Game On Dude made him the third choice in the field; the first time he had not been the post time favorite in 15 starts.

The Dude was ready, however. Smith took him right to the front and let him roll through sharp fractions of :22.91, :45.39, and 1:09.39, a brisker pace than what unfolded had when Game On Dude ran head-to-head with Blueskiesnrainbows in the San Antonio. Heading into the second turn, the fans got the showdown they’d been hoping for with Mucho Macho Man at Game On Dude’s right shoulder and Will Take Charge just outside of Mucho Macho Man.

“The stars are all aligned,” said track announcer Trevor Denman.

This time the Dude’s talent and will to win were unassailable. Mucho Macho Man faded and Will Take Charge was held at bay by 13⁄4 lengths. The Dude trifecta was priceless: He made history by winning his third Santa Anita Handicap, he broke the stakes record with his final time of 1:58.17, and he struck dumb his critics.

“It’s an emotional win,” Baffert said afterward. “It kills me when they knock on him, but we came in quiet and that’s the way I like it. We came in under the radar, and we were ready for them.”

The Big ’Cap was an important race for the sport as well. A compelling handicap division allows fans to make a connection with top horses and gives a chance for rivalries to develop. Keep putting such compelling contests on TV and perhaps Thoroughbred racing could start to savor some redemption of its own.


Handicapping the Derby: Picking a Winner or Picking Your Favorite Excuse???

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Eric Crawford of The Courier-Journal…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Cornering The Market on Sorry Excuses

In most sports, nobody wants to hear excuses from losers. Coaches even go so far as to say, “We’re not going to make excuses,” before they rattle off, that’s right, a series of excuses.

But horse racing is different. In horse racing, the excuse is a respected tradition, a hopeful harbinger even.

In no other sport are fans so eager to “throw out” a bad performance, and nowhere else in sports is the solid excuse for defeat so welcome by the public. The compelling excuse is the get-out-of-jail free card of thoroughbred handicapping.

You’re bound to hear anything. The most famous excuse, perhaps, came in Secretariat’s third-place loss in the Wood Memorial. The tooth abscess that vets discovered was a Triple Crown excuse. It was (1) a nagging but not serious condition that (2) affected the horse’s ability to run but (3) had no bearing on his soundness.

More dubious are the nonspecific excuses, old standbys like “didn’t like the track,” “bad trip” and “didn’t like the distance,” which can be legitimate but must be judged on a case-by-case basis. Too often they are used as a matter of habit, in the “dog ate my bullet work” fashion.

Which brings us to the current Derby field. Seven of the expected 20 starters are coming off victories — but don’t think they aren’t in need of excuses.

Blue Grass winner Brilliant Speed, for instance, lost his only two dirt starts by 19¼ and 21 lengths. And there really is no excuse for that.

Of the others in that group, Toby’s Corner, Pants On Fire, Twice the Appeal and Animal Kingdom might not need an excuse after winning their last race, but they probably need one for just about every other race of their careers.

And then there are your favorites. Dialed In, the only winner of multiple graded stakes races this year, is dismissed from the excuse discussion. He won the Grade III Holy Bull, then could be said to have bounced (receded after a big effort, another historic excuse) to finish second against nonstakes company before winning the Florida Derby.

If Dialed In bounced in his second race of the year, Uncle Mo flushed. He was the probable top choice in the morning line before finishing third in the Wood Memorial, but he’s easily the top choice for best excuse. His connections said he had a gastrointestinal problem that slowed him in the Wood. Who can’t identify with that?

Connections of Soldat, fourth in the Florida Derby, said he didn’t like dirt in his face, and later trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said he didn’t get a good trip (i.e., couldn’t lead wire to wire). On Sunday he added breaking from the No. 1 hole — another classic excuse, the post position.

As excuses go, that’s not a bad effort, certainly better than Todd Pletcher’s Stay Thirsty got after the same race. Pletcher said he had “no excuse” after finishing seventh but on Sunday got into the spirit.

“Stay Thirsty came to the paddock and he was completely drenched,” Pletcher said. “It was almost like an overheating thing. … I don’t know if the heat affected a number of horses, but I thought it was a peculiar race.”

There are others. Mucho Macho Man lost a shoe in the Louisiana Derby. Jockey Kerwin Clark said Decisive Moment was “a tad confused running on Polytrack” in the Spiral Stakes. Tom Walters, who owns Santiva, said his horse “got buried inside” and “never really got to run” while finishing ninth as the beaten favorite in the Blue Grass.

You get the picture. In a wide-open year, in addition to trying to pick the best horse, you also might want to pick the best excuse.