Story Of A Dream

Human element matches equine achievement

Mucho Macho Man

Jockey Gary Stevens, top, rides Mucho Macho Man to victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic

Mucho Macho Man won the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Saturday evening at Arcadia, California’s Santa Anita Park in a thrilling photo finish, capping off the lucrative race’s 30th edition in dramatic style.

Will Take Charge lived up to his name down the final stretch but fell just shy and was a nose behind in second place. Declaration of War finished in third just a head off the pace to round out the competitors in the elite 11-horse field that finished in the money.

Jockey Gary Stevens—who came out of retirement this season after a seven-year hiatus—kept Mucho Macho Man on the pace throughout, and the three horses were separated by no more than a neck when they crossed the finish line. Kathy Ritvo, the trainer of Mucho Macho Man, has quite the comeback story herself as a heart-transplant survivor.

This marks the first time a female trainer has entered a victorious Breeders’ Cup Classic horse, as Mucho Macho Man avenged last year’s close runner-up finish to get to the winner’s circle. In the 2000m contest, defending champion Fort Larned was maintaining the pace well at around the three-quarter-mile mark but faded down the final stretch and wound up finishing just outside the money in fourth. Fort Larned was 3.5 lengths off the pace that the top trio set.

For the second consecutive year, trainer Bob Baffert’s Game On Dude was the odds-on favorite. The horse finished seventh in 2012 and came up short on this occasion, too, finishing in ninth after his own promising start.

After the race, Stevens and Ritvo shared a moment, and the 50-year-old jockey, who won the first Breeders’ Cup Classic of his illustrious career, delivered a memorable, humorous quote. “You just made an old man happy” said the charismatic rider.

Stevens closed out his comeback year that began in January with a sweep of the two biggest races at the two-day world championships. He won the $2 million Distaff with Beholder on Friday. The rumour mill was flowing upon news of his return. Was he broke? Was he crazy? Surely at 50 years old, he must have lost a step.

He was none of those things. The ultracompetitive Stevens was back with a vengeance and remarkably at the top of his game. He rode his first race back on January 6 and was back in the winner’s circle on January 12. It was from that point onward that the comeback of the ages began to take shape. After a fierce effort in the Kentucky Derby aboard the gallant Oxbow to finish sixth, it was clear that Stevens meant business.

The pair roared back in the Preakness Stakes and teamed up with fellow old-timer D. Wayne Lukas to win the second jewel of the Triple Crown. In doing so, Stevens became the oldest jockey to win the Preakness and defeated riders literally half his age.

Though winning the Preakness was a major achievement, Stevens remained hard at work rebuilding his reputation and building business on the West Coast. He added stakes win after stakes win to his already lustrous resume, reaffirming himself as one of the best jockeys in the world.

All part of the fabric of the moving story behind Mucho Macho Man, who came back from last year’s adversity, combined with the resurgent Stevens and Ritvo’s groundbreaking triumph and making for a wonderful Classic winner.

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