ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) — Gary Stevens had never won the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic in his long career. Kathy Ritvo came close a year ago with Mucho Macho Man only to settle for second.
The veteran jockey and the trainer who got another chance at life after a heart transplant in 2008 teamed up with the hard-knocking horse to win by a whisker Saturday.
Mucho Macho Man edged Will Take Charge in a photo finish decided by a nose, making Ritvo the first female trainer to win North America’s richest race at a Breeders’ Cup that began tragically with the death of a horse in the first race.
“I didn’t know the photo was as close as it was,” said Stevens, who was 0-for-14 in the Classic.
Stevens capped his comeback at 50 in stellar fashion, surviving a photo finish in the Classic after winning the $2 million Distaff with Beholder on Friday for a sweep of the biggest races at the two-day world championships at Santa Anita.
Ritvo became the fifth female trainer to win a Breeders’ Cup race and got to celebrate a year after seeing Mucho Macho Man finish second by a half-length to winner Fort Larned.
“Thrilling,” she said.
First, though, Ritvo had to sweat out the results.
Mucho Macho Man stretched his neck to hold off Will Take Charge, trained by 78-year-old Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas.
“I was just hoping he got it,” Ritvo said. “When I saw Gary shake his stick, I was confident. He ran a fantastic race.”
Game On Dude, the 8-5 favorite who was 5-0 this year, finished ninth on his home track for trainer Bob Baffert and co-owner Joe Torre, the retired Dodgers and Yankees manager.
Baffert had an up-and-down day. His filly, Secret Compass, broke her leg in the opening Juvenile Fillies race and had to be euthanized. Then he won two races before Game On Dude lost as the favorite for the second straight year.
“When I saw him going real fast on the backstretch, I knew I was in trouble,” he said. “Then when Mike (Smith) asked him, there was nothing there. You always feel bad when you get beat, but I feel worse for the horse.”
Fort Larned wound up fourth.
Mucho Macho Man ran 1 ¼ miles in 2:00.72 and paid $10, $4.60 and $3.60 as the 4-1 second choice. The victory likely earned him champion older male honors and may get him consideration for Horse of the Year honors, which Game On Dude could have wrapped up with a win.
Current Horse of the Year Wise Dan repeated in the $2 million Mile, winning by three-quarters of a length under Jose Lezcano, a late replacement for Velazquez. He paid $3.60 to win as the 4-5 favorite.
Will Take Charge returned $7.20 and $4.80.
“It’s just a heartbreak that he lost,” said Lukas, who won his only Classic in 1999 with Cat Thief. “He did everything right. The jump after the wire we got him.”