The $5-million Breeders' Cup Classic suffered a major defection Thursday when trainer Bill Mott announced that Ron The Greek, winner of the Jockey Club Gold Cup, would be scratched from Saturday's race at Santa Anita because of a quarter crack.
Ron The Greek won the 2012 Santa Anita Handicap. His morning-line odds for the Classic were 8-1 and his departure leaves a field of 11 in the 1 1/4-mile race.
"He had an abscess that broke open in his foot," Mott said.
The trainer said the abscess was discovered Wednesday during the feed time. "He's never had foot issues before in his life. He had a strong gallop yesterday and he must have just bumped the heel of his foot wrong and he got an abscess in the bulb of his heel," Mott said.
Ask veteran horsemen around Santa Anita which of the entrants in the Classic has made an impression during training, and Mucho Macho Man's name will inevitably come up.
Since arriving from the East Coast on Sept. 9 to begin preparations for the Classic, Mucho Macho Man has demonstrated a fondness for Santa Anita's dirt surface. He won the Grade I Awesome Again Stakes on Sept. 28 at Santa Anita, and trainer Kathy Ritvo thinks the 5-year-old son of Macho Uno couldn't be in better condition.
"He's coming into the race really well," Ritvo said.
Mucho Macho Man finished second in last year's Classic on the same surface. Ritvo knows what Saturday's race favorite, the Bob Baffert-trained Game On Dude, is capable of doing.
"I just try to train my own horse," she said. "My horse ran a fantastic race last year and I'm hopeful he can do it again."
Friday's Distaff is getting almost as much advance buzz as Saturday's Classic.
Once two-time winner Royal Delta, Kentucky Oaks winner Princess of Sylmar and last year's Juvenile Filly winner Beholder were entered, lots of other trainers looked elsewhere. Three others — Authenticity, Close Hatches and Street Girl — took the plunge, and only Street Girl rated long morning-line odds, at 30-1.
Royal Delta was made 8-5, Princess of Sylmar 9-5, Beholder 5-2. They were followed by Close Hatches at 6-1, Authenticity at 8-1 and Street Girl.
The Distaff could very well become a showdown for the $2-million purse between the Geritol Jocks, Mike Smith, 48, on Royal Delta, and Gary Stevens, 50, on Beholder.
If Royal Delta wins, she will become just the second horse in the 30 years of Breeders' Cup competition to win three years in a row. The first was European star Goldikova.
NBC will carry the Breeders' Cup mostly on its NBCSN (NBC Sports Network), but also on the main network. On Friday, the races will be on NBCSN from 1-5 p.m. Pacific. On Saturday, it will be on NBCSN from 12:30-5 p.m., then switch to NBC from 5-6 p.m. for the Classic.
People at the track will hear the usual race calls of the popular Trevor Denman, but those watching on TV will get the call from NBC's Larry Collmus.