Mucho Macho Man Classic win caps emotional Breeders' Cup
Gary Stevens soaks up the moment after riding Mucho Macho Man to victory in the Breeder's Cup Classic race at the Santa Anita Racetrack in Arcadia, California, on November 2, 2013
Mucho Macho Man's triumph on Saturday made Kathy Ritvo, five years removed from a heart transplant, the first woman to train a winner in North America's richest race.
It also erased the memory of his narrow loss to upset winner Fort Larned in last year's Classic on the same Santa Anita Park dirt track.
Veteran Gary Stevens, riding again this year at the age of 50 after seven years in retirement, piloted the five-year-old to the victory -- the Hall of Fame jockey's first Classic win.
The Aidan O'Brien-trained Declaration of War finished third, while 9-5 favorite Game on Dude faded late and finished ninth, failing in a third-straight Classic bid for trainer Bob Baffert, who like O'Brien remains without a Classic win on his resume.
"This was a tremendous experience to win this race at my age," said Stevens, whose comeback season has already included a victory in the Preakness. "I never expected to be in this situation. This is the ultimate feeling. It's the icing on the cake of my career."
As Game on Dude faded around the final turn, Mucho Macho Man seized the lead. He powered to the wire, with Declaration of War and the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Travers winner Will Take Charge thundering behind.
"I heard 'em coming," Stevens said. "I knew they were coming ... But the race was a mile and a quarter, not a mile and a quarter and a stride."
The second day of the two-day, 14-race, $27 million Breeders' Cup extravaganza got off to a chaotic start with longshot Ria Antonia winning the $2 million Juvenile Fillies after stewards ruled that She's a Tiger, originally credited with a win by a nose, had impeded her.
She's a Tiger, ridden by Stevens, was demoted to second and Rosalind was third in the 1 1/16-mile race that was marred by the fatal injury to Baffert-trained Secret Compass.
Jockey John Velazquez was thrown from Secret Compass when she went down. At first thought to have escaped serious injury, Velazquez was on the brink of leaving the hospital when doctors discovered internal bleeding and he was sent for emergency surgery to remove his spleen.
The incident rippled through the day, as trainers hustled to find new jockeys for his mounts.
Baffert saddled two winners -- New Year's Day in the $2 million, 1 1/16-mile Juvenile and Secret Circle in the six-furlong Sprint -- but admitted the victories were bittersweet.
"These horses are so close to us and when a tragedy happens like that ... I've never had something like that happen on a big day. The win is exciting, but still, in the back of my mind, I'm thinking about that filly."
Although O'Brien again failed to crack the Classic, it was a strong showing by European raiders with victories for his Magician in the $3 million, 1 1/2-mile Turf and for Dank, trained by Barbados-born English great Michael Stoute in the $2 million Filly and Mare Turf.
Both of them led European one-twos.
Dank, ridden by Ryan Moore, edged the Andre Fabre-trained Romantica in the final strides of the 1 1/4-mile race, while Magician ran down the Fugue to beat the John Gosden-trained filly by half a length.
The victories took Europe's tally in the 30th edition of the Breeders' Cup to five, after trans-Atlantic challengers triumphed in the Marathon, the Juvenile Turf and the Juvenile Fillies Turf on Friday.
North American 2012 Horse of the Year Wise Dan repeated as Mile champion in a confident performance -- a victory that bolsters his claim to 2013 Horse of the Year honors especially in light of Game on Dude's disappointing finish.
Groupie Doll and Mizdirection showed a year hasn't sapped their speed as each repeated in sprint races, Groupie Doll taking the seven-furlong Filly and Mare Sprint and Mizdirection repeating in the Turf Sprint over six and a half furlongs.