Photo: Don August
Loyalty is a virtuous trait, but it won’t necessarily pay the bills. So when Gary Stevens
takes the track on Mucho Macho Man
against the D. Wayne Lukas
-trained Will Take Charge
in Saturday’s Santa Anita Handicap presented by San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino, competitive juices reign and allegiance goes out the window.
Stevens and Lukas have a storied and successful relationship, numbering two Kentucky Derby victories among their scores of prestigious triumphs through more than three decades, and it was Lukas who gave Stevens a leg up on Oxbow to win last year’s Preakness Stakes and validate in no uncertain terms Stevens’ comeback at age 50 after a seven-year retirement.
“As much elation as we felt after we beat Will Take Charge a nose in the Breeders’ Cup Classic last year, it was hard for Wayne to get beat like that,” Stevens said at Clockers’ Corner on a cloud-covered Sunday morning on which the main track was open after being closed for three days due to rain.
“Still, Wayne was classy after the loss. He was waiting for me in the tunnel when I came back and gave me a big old hug. It was pretty cool. The Big ‘Cap is a helluva horse race and he’s got a helluva horse, but I’ve got a helluva horse, too, and I don’t want to get beat.
“I don’t even want to think about the other side of it. I’m focused on the positive of what I’m expecting and what can be accomplished this year. This is just the second leg of a big plan that Mucho Macho Man’s team had.” If all goes well, Mucho Macho Man and Will Take Charge would meet again in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 1.
Stevens turns 51 on Thursday. Lukas is 78. Despite naysayers considering each past his prime, the two Hall of Fame members seemingly have discovered the Fountain of Youth.
“To me, Wayne was never gone,” Stevens said. “A lot of people had him over the hill, but now he’s got another good 3-year-old (Unstoppable Colby, who runs in Saturday’s San Felipe Stakes) and Will Take Charge (3-year-old champion of 2013). That shows what he can do when he’s got the goods.
“In a way, that’s my situation, too. I’ve been able to show what I can do if I’ve got the goods, and I’ve got plenty of goods right now, and I’ve had plenty of goods, touch wood.”MUCHO MACHO MAN WILL BE BIG ’CAP MORNING LINE FAVORITEMucho Macho Man
, who nosed out Will Take Charge to win last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, will be installed as the morning line favorite for Saturday’s Santa Anita Handicap, according to Jon White, Santa Anita Park’s oddsmaker. But, White added, Will Take Charge will be a close second choice.
“In trying to determine Big ’Cap favoritism, a key reason for making Mucho Macho Man the morning line favorite over Will Take Charge is Mucho Macho Man was a shorter price than Will Take Charge in the Breeders’ Cup Classic,” explained White, who also provides pre-race commentary for the track’s simulcast network.
“Mucho Macho Man was 4-1 in the Classic, while Will Take Charge was 8-1. And since that race, Mucho Macho Man has done absolutely nothing wrong. He won the Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park by 14 lengths, though, truthfully, that really was nothing more than a paid workout. Will Take Charge won the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs after the Breeders’ Cup, then ran second in the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream.
“Even though Will Take Charge did not win the Donn, he ran well. The winner, Lea, broke the track record (for 1 1/8 miles). But any way you slice it, Mucho Macho Man is going into the Big ’Cap off a 14-length win, while Will Take Charge is going into it off a loss.
“Another reason for making Mucho Macho Man the favorite is his excellent record on Santa Anita’s main track. Mucho Macho Man ran a very good race on Santa Anita’s main track when he finished second to Fort Larned in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2012. He also won the Awesome Again on Santa Anita’s main track before last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic.”
White expects the Big ’Cap betting on Mucho Macho Man and Will Take Charge to be close.
“Right now, while reserving the right to make last-minute adjustments based on the field size and any late developments, I’m planning to make Mucho Macho Man the 9-5 favorite, with Mucho Macho Man 2-1 and Game On Dude 5-2,” White said.
When White made the official morning line for last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, he installed Game On Dude as the 8-5 favorite and he left the starting gate at 8-5. But White said he believes it is unlikely that the bettors will make Game On Dude the favorite in Saturday’s Big ’Cap.
“Game On Dude has been the betting favorite in his last 15 straight races in this country,” White noted. “But I don’t think he will be the favorite this time. He’s going into this year’s Big ’Cap with a three-race losing streak. He finished far behind both Mucho Macho Man and Will Take Charge in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Then he got beat by Will Take Charge in the Clark. And then he ran fifth as a heavy favorite in the Santa Antonio.
“But while it’s true that Game On Dude has lost three in a row and didn’t hit the board in the San Antonio, one still has to take into consideration that he is a two-time Big ’Cap winner and he does have a terrific record on Santa Anita’s main track—seven wins from 10 starts.
“I think it’s very difficult to try and predict just how much Game On Dude’s stock with the bettors has fallen now that he’s lost three straight. Would I be surprised if he goes off higher than 5-2? No, that really wouldn’t surprise me. On the other hand, considering Game On Dude has been the favorite in 15 straight races in this country, I also wouldn’t be surprised if he goes off lower than 5-2.
“All in all, it’s wonderful to see three outstanding older horses like Mucho Macho Man, Will Take Charge and Game On Dude clash in this year’s Big ’Cap.”