Breeders' Cup Classic winner Mucho Macho Man made a cameo appearance during live racing at Santa Anita Sunday, working five furlongs in 1:01 ⅖ between the 4th and 5th races in preparation for Saturday's Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap.
With regular exercise rider Nick Petro aboard, the strapping son of Macho Uno warmed up going the "wrong" way, turned around in the vicinity of the finish line, and eased into a gallop in the right direction.
Mucho Macho Man broke off in earnest at the half-mile pole, and with ground-devouring strides, reeled off splits of :24 ⅕ seconds and :48 ⅘ seconds on the good track. The Kathy Ritvo charge continued to motor along, ears pricked, down the lane and motored past the wire to the seven-furlong marker.
This was the second time that "MMM" had visited the Santa Anita track on Sunday. At 8 a.m. (PST), the six-year-old had gone out under Petro for a "wrong-way" jog and appeared to relish the conditions.
Mucho Macho Man brings a three-race winning streak into the Big 'Cap, for which he rates as the 124-pound highweight and projected morning-line favorite. A 4 ¼-length romper in the September 28 Awesome Again here, he just held on from Will Take Charge in the November 2 Breeders' Cup Classic, and opened 2014 with a 14-length demolition job in the January 18 Florida Sunshine Millions Classic.
Hall of Famer Gary Stevens, who has been aboard for those past three victories, again has the call on Saturday.
Meanwhile, archrival Will Take Charge took to the track at Oaklawn Park Sunday morning and zipped a half-mile in a bullet :47 ⅘. The champion three-year-old male of 2013 posted the best of 74 works at the distance on the fast track.
Since missing by a nostril to Mucho Macho Man in the Breeders' Cup Classic, the D. Wayne Lukas trainee captured the November 29 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs and finished second to track record-setter Lea in the February 9 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park. Plans call for Will Take Charge to ship Monday to California.
As an added twist to the Mucho Macho Man/Will Take Charge rivalry, the Hall of Fame tandem of Stevens and Lukas are on opposing teams.
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 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," Stevens said at Clockers' Corner on a cloud-covered Sunday morning on which the main track was open after being closed for three days due to rain.
"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. It was pretty cool. 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 the other side of it. I'm focused on the positive of what I'm expecting and what can be accomplished this year. This is just the second leg of a big plan that Mucho Macho Man's team had."
If all goes well, Mucho Macho Man and Will Take Charge would meet again in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita on November 1.
Stevens turns 51 on Thursday. Lukas is 78. 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 Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes] and Will Take Charge. 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."