Breeders' Cup Classic has Game On Dude, poignant story lines

With Mike Smith atop and Bob Baffert as trainer, Game On Dude may be the Classic favorite, but Mucho Macho Man and Fort Larned figure in too.

All the talking is done, the works are in the books and the money — huge money — is on the line for Saturday's Breeders' Cup Classic.

It will go off as the 12th and final race on a day at Santa Anita that organizers hope will attract as many as 50,000 people.

Leaving the Classic for last certainly is sensible. The race's field of 11 veteran horses, who have won a total of more than $27 million, is difficult to top, and the purse is set at $5 million. That's the largest in North America and second in the world only to the $10-million Dubai World Cup.

Money isn't the only measure of race quality.

This Classic, the 30th in an ongoing series that seems to have found a semi-permanent home in the Southern California sunshine — Santa Anita will be the site for the third consecutive year in 2014 — features many of the biggest current names in the sport. And that doesn't factor in the jockeys.

Game On Dude, handled by high-profile trainer Bob Baffert and owned in part by Major League Baseball executive Joe Torre , is the marquee morning-line odds favorite. A victory would make Dude's career winnings $8.6 million.

Nothing is assured. Last year, Game On Dude finished a beaten seventh in the Classic; in 2011, he was second, beaten when Mike Smith, his jockey this year, rode Drosselmeyer past Game On Dude at the end; at the time, Dude had Smith's former girlfriend, jockey Chantal Sutherland, atop.

When the horses go to the gate Saturday, trainer Kathy Ritvo's Mucho Macho Man and trainer Ian Wilkes' Fort Larned are expected to be close behind, or even leading in the odds. Fort Larned won last year, holding off Mucho Macho Man at the end.

If either wins, the stories will be heartwarming.

Ritvo, near death a few years ago, underwent a heart transplant and openly relishes every minute now. After her surgery, doctors told her to avoid places likely to have lots of bacteria, such as animals and dirt. So, daily, she trains horses and exists in barns, shrugging off the dangers with: "This is what I love to do. This is me."

Riding Mucho Macho Man will be Gary Stevens, a Hall of Fame jockey who has returned to the saddle after a seven-year retirement in which he appeared in movies and a TV series and did racing commentary on network TV.

Wilkes' Fort Larned is owned by Janis Whitham, who is 81, lives in the metropolis of Leoti, Kan., (population 1,563) and tends to name horses after old forts in the Midwest. She is not a total newcomer to the Breeders' Cup. She owned Bayakoa, who won the Ladies Classic in 1989 and '90.

Also expected to get attention from the bettors are Palace Malice, who won this year's Belmont Stakes, and Paynter, who was second in last year's Belmont. Paynter, also trained by Baffert, has overcome life-threatening injuries to climb back to this top level of racing.

Interestingly, Smith has ridden both Palace Malice and Paynter in the past, as well as Mucho Macho Man in last year's Classic.

Other Classic entrants are Last Gunfighter, Irish horse Planteur, Moreno, Declaration Of War, Will Take Charge and Flat Out. Moreno, Will Take Charge and Palace Malice will carry four fewer pounds (122) than the rest of the field because they are 3-year-olds.

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

 

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