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Blog - RACING

Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire

The initial thought was to make the Breeders’ Cup weekend wrap about the Eclipse Awards races, but instead of another championship piece let’s just focus on the many stars who shined at Santa Anita Park, both the people and the horses.

It’s hard to imagine a more fitting end to the 2013 Breeders’ Cup than Mucho Macho Man - ridden by 50-year-old Hall of Famer Gary Stevens - fending off fast-finishing Will Take Charge, trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, and a talented European invader trained by Irish master Aidan O’Brien in Declaration of War in the $5 million Classic.

The Classic featured one of those fantastic finishes that leaves you with goose bumps and asking your friends, “Who won?!”

In 2013, it was perhaps the ultimate storyline that won out as Stevens continued his amazing comeback by adding his first Classic win to the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff he took down the day before with Beholder.

When Stevens announced his comeback in January, there were more than a fair number of doubters. As someone who is old enough to remember fondly his career before his seven-year retirement, I hoped there was a little magic left in Stevens.

Turns out, there was a lot of magic left in those 50-year-old bones. Stevens won the Preakness in May for his ninth career Triple Crown victory and picked up his ninth and 10th Breeders’ Cup wins on Beholder and Mucho Macho Man. In the Classic, especially, Stevens used all of his experience and talent to keep a tiring Mucho Macho Man in front for just one extra stride.

“It's actually the culmination of a career,” Steven said. “I had never won a Breeders' Cup Classic. I'd been so close so many times, and I figured it just wasn't meant to be.  We had talked about this in the past five weeks that maybe this was all meant to be, because I'm sure enjoying this more than any victory that … I mean, I can't believe that it happened.”

Stevens shines in front of the cameras (in and out of retirement) and in the saddle, and racing is very lucky to have a true star back in the game. Take care of those knees, Gary, we like having you around.

2013 BREEDERS' CUP CLASSIC

Of course, fans of Mucho Macho Man know the Stevens thread is just one of many incredible storylines that make this horse so likeable.

His trainer Kathy Ritvo very nearly died of cardiomyopathy before successful heart transplant surgery in November 2008. Ritvo, a mother of two, is a fighter in the purest sense of the word and was back at the barn six months after the transplant, determined to live life.

“I wanted my kids to have their mother,” Ritvo said in a USA Today interview in 2011. “I wasn't finished.”

To see Ritvo rush out onto the track to celebrate with Mucho Macho Man and Stevens had to moisten the eye of even the most grizzled racing fan.

For the horse, too, the Classic was a tale of redemption. A remarkably talented colt at two and three who needed some time to grow into himself as a June foal, Mucho Macho Man showed flashes of brilliance, including a win in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes and a third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby in 2011. His runner-up finish to Fort Larned in the 2012 Classic was confirmation that Mucho Macho Man belonged in the conversation with the best older horses in the country, yet he just could never get that elusive Grade 1 win even deep into the summer of 2013.

That all changed in the Awesome Again Stakes on Sept. 28. Mucho Macho Man dominated on a track he clearly is very fond of, and then on racing’s biggest day Mucho Macho Man fired his best shot again and etched his place in racing’s record books as a Breeders’ Cup Classic winner. Now, there can be no doubting Mucho Macho Man’s elite ability.

Finally, Mucho Macho Man’s owners, Dean and Patti Reeves, are always most gracious with their time with fans and media.

“That's what really makes this so special. He is a fan favorite,” Dean Reeves said. “He's just a neat horse.  He is easy to love, and he gives you everything he's got every time out.”

The Reeves are a class act and they’ve always understood what Mucho Macho Man means to his fans. Now, they an integral part of one of the all-time great stories in Breeders’ Cup history.

“It's been an amazing, amazing trip, amazing ride,” Ritvo said. “Everybody that supports us and myself, it's just — it's just like Gary said, I thought we would be here, but I still don't even know how to feel.”

SCENES ON THE TRACK AT THE 2013 BREEDERS' CUP

The 2013 Breeders’ Cup featured an incredible demonstration of star power as evidenced by five horses winning their second race in the World Championships —

Wise Dan (more on him later), Beholder, Groupie Doll, Mizdirection and Secret Circle.

Let’s start with Beholder. Last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner became the second horse to win two different Breeders’ Cup races when she dominated a Distaff field that included two-time defending winner Royal Delta and four-time 2013 Grade 1 winner Princess of Sylmar.

Let this be a reminder to racing writers, myself included: it’s always smart to let the entire season play out before we go crowning champions (OK, so we will talk a little about Eclipse Awards).

Entering October, it looked like the 3-year-old filly Eclipse Award was pretty much a slam dunk for Princess of Sylmar, whose four-race Grade 1 winning streak included the Kentucky Oaks and a victory over older females in the Beldame Invitational Stakes. After the Distaff, a very strong argument can be made on behalf of Beholder. She can match Princess of Sylmar with four Grade 1 wins and was absolutely sensational on the sport’s championship stage in winning the Distaff under Stevens. This is one special filly, perhaps a future Hall of Famer, and it should be a fun Eclipse Award debate over the next few months.

Also worth noting is that when Richard Mandella brings a horse to the Breeders’ Cup, you’d better take notice. He had Beholder at the apex of her game for the Distaff and he did a very nice job, too, with Indy Point in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Indy Point finished third behind Irish classic winner Magician and probably the second-best filly in all of Europe in The Fugue. Mandella, one of the true gentlemen in the game and an outstanding horseman, now has eight Breeders’ Cup winners from 38 starters.

“I’ve been lucky enough to have many good mares in my years of training, but this mare might have to be the best of all,” Mandella said of Beholder.

The middle of Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup card was highlighted by back-to-back repeat victories from Groupie Doll and Mizdirection in the Filly and Mare Sprint and the Turf Sprint, respectively.

Last year’s champion female sprinter Groupie Doll scored an emotional win for trainer William “Buff” Bradley, who along with his father, Fred, bred and co-owns the 5-year-old mare. She will be offered at auction at the Keeneland November breeding stock sale on Wednesday, so this was the closing chapter on a great racemare for the Bradleys.

RIDE ALONG WITH BUFF BRADLEY AS HE EXPERIENCE'S GROUPIE DOLL'S WIN

Mizdirection also closed the book on her career for trainer Mike Puype and an ownership group led by popular sports personality Jim Rome’s Jungle Racing. Competing on a downhill turf course that, let’s be honest, Mizdirection owns, the 5-year-old mare surged past pacesetter Reneesgotzip and Tightend Touchdown in the closing strides under Hall of Famer Mike Smith to deliver her second start Turf Sprint score.

That the Turf Sprint was her first start since a fifth-place finish in June made the win all the more remarkable.

“Nothing this gal does should surprise me at this point, but I'm still stunned that she did it again,” Rome said. “The Mizdirection experience is honestly one of the highlights of my entire life.”

With six wins in as many starts on the downhill turf course, including two Breeders’ Cup triumphs, perhaps Santa Anita should consider renaming it after Mizdirection. She, too, will be offered at auction. Mizdirection is scheduled to go through the sale ring on Monday night at the Fasig-Tipton November sale … but she will always have a place in the Jungle.

2013 BREEDERS’ CUP WINNERS

Race

Winner

Winning Jockey

Winning Trainer

2nd

 

3rd

Marathon

London Bridge

Mike Smith

Jo Hughes

Blueskiesnrainbows

Worldly

Juvenile Turf

Outstrip

Mike Smith

Charles Appleby

Giovanni Boldini

Bobby’s Kitten

Dirt Mile

Goldencents

Rafael Bejarano

Doug O’Neill

Golden Ticket

Brujo de Olleros

Juvenile Fillies Turf

Chriselliam

Richard Hughes

Charles Hills

Testa Rossi

Colonel Joan

Distaff

Beholder

Gary Stevens

Richard Mandella

Close Hatches

Authenticity

Juvenile Fillies

Ria Antonia

Javier Castellano

Jeremiah Englehart

#She’s a Tiger

Rosalind

Filly & Mare Turf

Dank

Ryan Moore

Sir Michael Stoute

Romantica

Alterite

Filly & Mare Sprint

Groupie Doll

Rajiv Maragh

William Bradley

Judy the Beauty

Dance Card

Turf Sprint

Mizdirection

Mike Smith

Mike Puype

Reneesgotzip*

Tightend Touchdown*

Juvenile

New Year’s Day

Martin Garcia

Bob Baffert

Havana

Strong Mandate

Turf

Magician

Ryan Moore

Aidan O’Brien

The Fugue

Indy Point

Sprint

Secret Circle

Martin Garcia

Bob Baffert

Laugh Track

Gentlemen’s Bet

Mile

Wise Dan

Jose Lezcano

Charlie LoPresti

Za Approval

Silentio

Classic

Mucho Macho Man

Gary Stevens

Kathy Ritvo

Will Take Charge

Declaration of War

#-Denotes disqualified from 1st to 2nd'

*- Denotes dead heat

Like Beholder on Friday, Secret Circle joined Zenyatta (2008, Distaff; 2009, Classic) with wins in two different Breeders’ Cup races. The 2011 Juvenile Sprint winner won the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Sprint in just his second start following a 1 ½-year layoff for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. He also gave Baffert his 10th Breeders’ Cup win, trailing only D. Wayne Lukas (19), after Baffert’s New Year’s Day posted a 10.50-to-1 upset in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile earlier on the card.

Royal Delta in the Distaff, Fort Larned in the Classic and Little Mike in the Turf had repeat bids dashed in 2013, the latter by the last of five winners from a powerful group of European invaders.

Irish Two Thousand Guineas winner Magician overhauled fellow Euro The Fugue in the closing strides of the Breeders’ Cup Turf to give Europe the last of a remarkable five victories at the 2013 World Championships. Trained by Aidan O’Brien and ridden by Ryan Moore, Magician unleashed an explosive burst of speed in the stretch to win the 1 ½-mile race in eye-catching fashion.

Moore won the Filly and Mare Turf earlier on the card with probable champion turf female Dank, who shipped in from Europe to win a pair of Grade 1 races in the U.S. in 2013 for trainer Sir Michael Stoute.

European invaders won three races on Friday. The Juvenile Fillies Turf was won by the Charles Hills-trained Chriselliam under jockey Richard Hughes, the Juvenile Turf went to Godolphin Racing’s Outstrip for trainer Charles Appleby and the Marathon was won by London Bridge for trainer Jo Hughes. All three trainers won with their first Breeders’ Cup starter, but both Outstrip and London Bridge had the advantage of the services of all-time leading Breeders’ Cup rider Mike Smith.

Smith on Friday extended his record for Breeders’ Cup wins with his 18th and 19th victories before making it an ever 20 with Mizdirection on Saturday. The NBA had “Big Game James” Worthy and “Big Shot Bob” Horry. Looks like horse racing has “Magic Man” Mike Smith in the Breeders’ Cup.

FRIDAY'S BREEDERS' CUP ACTION

The Juvenile Fillies on Saturday and the Dirt Mile on Friday also produced magic moments. Ria Antonia gave trainer Jeremiah Englehart his first career Breeders’ Cup victory when she won the Juvenile Fillies via the disqualification of She’s a Tiger. Goldencents won his second Grade 1 race of the year with a dominant performance in the Dirt Mile for trainer Doug O’Neill and an ownership group that includes Louisville Cardinals basketball coach Rick Pitino. Both could be Eclipse Awards finalists with the wins.

2013 BREEDERS' CUP CELEBRATIONS

The motto of the Breeders’ Cup is: “The Best is Yet to Come!”

In this case, I decided to save the best for last. Some of you are probably wondering why no discussion of Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Wise Dan yet, well, I wanted to finish strong (and keep all of the Dan fans reading until the end!).

Before we admire Wise Dan’s victory Saturday and his body of work, let’s take a minute to wish his regular rider, John Velazquez, a speedy recovery from injuries sustained in a spill earlier on the Breeders’ Cup card that forced him to miss the Mile. Jose Lezcano did a great job in his absence, but our thoughts are with Velazquez — a Hall of Famer, chairman on the Jockeys’ Guild and one of the most respected people in all of horse racing — as he recovers from a splenectomy.

“This one’s for John Velazquez,” Wise Dan’s trainer Charlie LoPresti said after the race.

In my eyes, Wise Dan not only wrapped up a second-straight Eclipse Award as Horse of the Year with his second-straight Breeders’ Cup Mile win — give an assist to Game On Dude for his dud in the Classic — he also cemented his credentials as a sure-fire future Hall of Famer with the victory.

Wise Dan also entered the debate as the most accomplished U.S.-based horse of this century along with Curlin and Zenyatta.

Since July 2011, Wise Dan has won 15 of 18 starts. Aside from a fourth to multiple champion Gio Ponti in the 2011 Shadwell Turf Mile, beaten by less than two lengths, Wise Dan has finished in the top two in 17 of those 18 races. His two runner-up finishes came on dirt in the 2012 Stephen Foster Handicap and in an off-the-turf Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland this October. He has eight Grade 1 wins during that stretch, including one on the dirt in the 2011 Clark Handicap, and has not lost in his last 10 races on grass.

Wise Dan has won at seven different tracks and on grass, dirt and synthetic surfaces.

The 6-year-old Wiseman’s Ferry gelding has 19 wins in 27 career starts and $6,293,610 in career earnings for LoPresti and owner-breeder Mort Fink.

“I don't think you can come up with the right words on how proud I am of him,” said Fink, 83. “But I can tell you that I got my birthday party, which is one month from now, a little early this year, and he keeps me going. I said that before, and I meant it.” Probably safe to guess that come January at the Eclipse Awards, Wise Dan will add to his collection of trophies (he won Horse of the Year, champion turf male and champion older male in 2012) by two. Make room in the trophy case, Mr. Fink, we’re all looking forward to seeing this great gelding again in 2014.

BREEDERS' CUP FASHIONS


Image Description

Mike Curry

A native of Philadelphia who grew up in nearby Wilmington, Del., Curry was editor of Thoroughbred Times TODAY before joining the America's Best Racing team in May 2012. He credits his grandfather for the inspiration to repeatedly sneak off to Delaware Park as a 16-year-old and the 1989 rivalry between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer for his passion for horse racing. Curry graduated from the University of Delaware in 1997 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and a concentration in Journalism. He worked for the Wilmington News Journal and was Sports Editor of the Cecil Whig before moving to Lexington in 2005.

Image Description

Mike Curry

A native of Philadelphia who grew up in nearby Wilmington, Del., Curry was editor of Thoroughbred Times TODAY before joining the America's Best Racing team in May 2012. He credits his grandfather for the inspiration to repeatedly sneak off to Delaware Park as a 16-year-old and the 1989 rivalry between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer for his passion for horse racing. Curry graduated from the University of Delaware in 1997 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and a concentration in Journalism. He worked for the Wilmington News Journal and was Sports Editor of the Cecil Whig before moving to Lexington in 2005.

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