Breeders’ Cup: Dan, Man, Dude

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Wise Dan delivered, again. Mucho Macho Man reached his Grade 1 potential, again. Game On Dude checked out when it mattered most, again.

Such were the three indelible moments of the final hour of the 30th Breeders’ Cup World Championships Saturday at Santa Anita Park. Sure there were others, heart-breaking and gratifying, but it seems the results of the final day races of the day will again be the ones to carry the most weight when it comes to the year-end championships.

Wise Dan, winner of the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Mile for the second straight year, probably locked up a second Horse of the Year title thanks to the performances of the other two. He wasn’t as fast in this year’s Mile as he was a year ago – 1:32.47 to 1:31.78 – or as dominant – three-quarters of a length compared to 1 1/2 lengths – but make no mistake, Wise Dan was on his game yet again.

“He is an exceptional animal, but he’s not made of iron,” winning trainer Charlie LoPresti said in the post-race press conference. “We just need to be a little bit more careful with him next year. But he’s sound and he loves to run, and he loves to train. I know one thing about him, even in defeat, he’ll give you his all.”

Mucho Macho Man could stake his claim toward racing’s top prize, thanks to a determined victory in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic. He’s probably up against it though, for losses earlier in the season on the East Coast that didn’t reveal his true talents. Second in the Classic a year ago, Mucho Macho Man provided an emotional and uplifting ending to the day with trainer Kathy Ritvo beaming and jockey Gary Stevens flashing his ageless smile in the midst of a career renaissance at age 50.

Stevens called the victory the “icing on the cake” of his career. Ritvo, as she’s done throughout Mucho Macho Man’s career, praised her horse.

“He’s been a pleasure to get up and see in the barn in the morning,” Ritvo said. “I love this horse. He’s fantastic. He gives us 100 percent. He’s a happy horse, intelligent. I’m just very blessed to be here. Very blessed to have met him. Very blessed to have my team, Finn (Green, the racing manager for Reeves Thoroughbreds), my assistant, the groom, the exercise rider, his hot‑walker. He has a whole team of people.”

It seemed a little unfair earlier in the week when Game On Dude was basically referred to in one trade publication as the equine version of the Buffalo Bills. Yet it was difficult to argue that analogy as the gelding who racked up three Grade 1 triumphs and $2.47 million in earnings this year alone came home ninth of 11, his third loss in the Classic in a row. The first was a close one, he finished second by 1 1/2 lengths under the lights at Churchill Downs, but the next two weren’t even in the right zip code, seventh in 2012 and ninth Saturday.

Mike Smith, who won three Breeders’ Cup races over the two days, rode Game On Dude. The loss stung and it followed another on Royal Delta the day before in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Not the way he envisioned finishing each day.

“The weekend has been great, but I wish my two big horses would have run better,” Smith offered up after the Classic was complete.

Wise Dan was one of four on the day to add a second Breeders’ Cup win, along with back-to-back winners Groupie Doll (Filly and Mare Sprint) and Mizdirection (Turf Sprint) and Secret Circle, winner of the defunct Juvenile Sprint in 2011 and the Sprint Saturday.

Bob Baffert’s emotions were put through the wringer. He started his Breeders’ Cup off by sending Secret Compass out only to not see her return. Secret Compass broke down on the far turn of the Juvenile Fillies, sending John Velazquez hard to the ground. The Discreet Cat filly, so professional winning the Grade 1 Chandelier last time out, suffered a severely fractured ankle and was euthanized on the track.

Baffert later upset the Juvenile with New Year’s Day and had Secret Circle ready to win the Sprint off just one race since April 2012. Baffert’s day ended with Game On Dude. Another loss in the Classic, and very likely the denial of an Eclipse Award.

Velazquez, brimming with confidence just a few days before as he outlined his mounts in the final installment of the Xpressbet Jockey Journal that appeared on this website, saw his day come to an end when Secret Compass broke down. Replacements were named on his mounts, a few came close and hit the board, then Velazquez’s best chance of the day, Wise Dan, won with Jose Lezcano.

Velazquez later underwent emergency surgery to remove his spleen after doctors discovered the Hall of Famer was suffering from internal bleeding.

The Europeans continued to display their mastery of grass races and particularly their dominance over U.S. turf horses. Dank, brilliant winning the Beverly D. this summer at Arlington, was equally awesome in the Filly and Mare Turf for Sir Michael Stoute. The French-based English-bred filly Romantica was second for Andre Fabre, with the French-bred Alterite, imported to the U.S. earlier this year by Martin Schwartz and turned over to Chad Brown, third.

The Europeans swept the Turf, too, with the 3-year-old Irish-bred Galileo colt Magician coming from a more than four-month layoff to run down the English-bred The Fugue in the final strides. The first four in the Turf were trained by men named O’Brien, Gosden, Mandella and McGaughey. Tough company.

Other representations of supreme horsemanship were on display through the victories by Groupie Doll and Mizdirection.

Buff Bradley told anyone who would listen all summer and fall that Groupie Doll was better than she was a year ago and she proved it winning by a half length over Judy the Beauty as the 3-1 favorite. She was 7-10 in the 2012 Filly and Mare Sprint, but every bit as dominating in 2013.

Mike Puype kept Mizdirection on the sidelines ever since her failed attempt on the East Coast in the Grade 1 Just a Game in a bog at Belmont. The Mizzen Mast filly came into the Turf Sprint a perfect 5-for-5 sprinting down the hill at Santa Anita and kept that unbeaten mark intact under a flawless ride from Smith.

Mizdirection and Groupie Doll, whose wins came 45 minutes apart, will respectively be sold Monday at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November and Wednesday at the Keeneland November sales.