Photo: Don August
As much as I enjoy finding that live longshot that could pop up and shock the world, I see the Santa Anita Handicap as a three-horse race. Run at the classic American conditions of ten furlongs on dirt, I fully suspect that the stretch run of the Big Cap will separate the men from the boys. As you know, there are not many more manly horses currently running in the United States these days than Mucho Macho Man, Will Take Charge, and Game On Dude. Even their names speak to their male prowess.
No offense to the nice group of horses; Blingo, Hear the Ghost, Imperative, Rousing Sermon, and American Blend, but frankly I think their best hope is to snare third if one of the big three throws in a clunker. So, after doing all the heavy lifting in telling you that the biggest race of the winter boils down to the three favorites, (I know, what a huge help I am on this one), let’s take a look at which of the big three is most likely to make it to the winner’s circle on Saturday.
Again, I am going to stray from the way I would normally handicap a race, and look more to the jockey, rather than the horses. The way I see it, the most important facet of this year’s fantastic edition of the Santa Anita Handicap boils down to the 51-year-old Hall of Famer, Gary Stevens. We already know how good Mucho Macho Man, Will Take Charge, and Game On Dude are. This one very well could be decided by the riders.
Stevens has a huge decision to make. On paper, Game On Dude, who will be ridden by Mike Smith, has a tactical advantage in that he is the only true speed horse in the race. Lone speed is one of the most dangerous propositions in racing, especially so when the speed horse is as classy as this one. Mike Smith has no choice but to send Game On Dude right to the lead and see if he can go all the way. Conversely, Luis Saez, aboard Will Take Charge, really doesn’t have too much to decide upon either. His job will be to get Will Take Charge clear running as they turn for home, in hopes that his charge can mow them down in the stretch. Stevens, on the other hand, has the horse, in Mucho Macho Man, to pressure Game On Dude pretty early, if that is what he so chooses.
Therein lies the dilemma; go after Game On Dude too early, and it can set the table for Will Take Charge; wait too long, and Game On Dude could prove impossible to catch. Luckily for Stevens, he’s as good as any rider, on or near the lead, of the last quarter century. Still, I don’t envy his position on Saturday.
My best guess is that Stevens does not wait too long, and takes the race to the two-time Big Cap champion, Game On Dude, relatively early. In my mind, that gives his excellent charge a better chance than hitting the stretch two lengths behind a strong front runner. Assuming I am right, and Stevens does go after Game On Dude early on the backstretch, I like the chances of Will Take Charge the best.
There you have it, Will Take Charge is my top pick in what should be a fantastic race between three excellent horses. Then again, if Gary decides to ...