Mucho Macho Man wins by a nose

AP

Mucho Macho Man won the $5 million Classic by a nose Saturday, making Kathy 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.

Gary 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.

“I didn’t know the photo was as close as it was,” said Stevens, who had never won the Classic in his long career.

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 at the finish to narrowly edge 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 great 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. A year ago, he went off as the favorite and finished seventh. Fort Larned wound up fourth.

Mucho Macho Man ran 2,000 meters 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.

Will Take Charge returned $7.20 and $4.80, while Declaration of War was another head back in third and paid $4.80 to show.

Stevens and Mucho Macho Man started moving on the outside around the straight turn and went after the leaders. They took the lead coming out of the turn for home, with Stevens urging the 5-year-old Mucho Macho Man on with a right-handed whip.

“They give me a free roll around the far turn,” he said. “I think that might have been the winning move.”

Ritvo, a 44-year-old mother of two, had a heart transplant in 2008 after a six-month wait.

The 30th Breeders’ Cup got off to a troubling start, with a rare disqualification in the opening race and Secret Compass euthanized because of a broken leg.

The $2 million Juvenile Fillies went from strange to tragic over several minutes. The DQ was announced after a green screen went up in a spot approaching the final turn to shield injured Secret Compass from the crowd.

“When you lose a horse like that, it just took all the wind out of our sails,” Baffert said. “I’ve never had something like that happen on a big day. We’re all still in shock.”