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, 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 78-year-old 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,” said Stevens, who turns 51 today. “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.
“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 it. I’m focused on the positive of what I’m expecting and what can be accomplished this year.”
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 three-year-old (Unstoppable Colby, who runs in Saturday’s San Felipe Stakes) and Will Take Charge (three-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, who nosed out Will Take Charge to win last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, will be installed as the morning line favourite for Saturday’s Santa Anita Handicap, according to Jon White, Santa Anita Park’s oddsmaker. 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 favourite, with Mucho Macho Man 2/1 and Game On Dude 5/2,” White said. He said it’s unlikely punters will make Game On Dude the favourite.
“Game On Dude has been the betting favourite in his last 15 straight races in this country (USA),” White noted. “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 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.
“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.”