If horse racing's newest star, Mucho Macho Man, could talk, the strapping 6-year-old horse would probably say, "I love Santa Anita."
His trainer, Kathy Ritvo, concurs.
"He is very comfortable, very happy," she said.
Last year, Mucho Macho Man won the $5-million Breeders' Cup Classic by a nose over Will Take Charge at Santa Anita. The two are set to have a rematch in the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap on Saturday, joined by Game On Dude, a two-time winner of the Big 'Cap.
A field of eight is set for a 1 1/4-mile race that track officials are calling the most highly anticipated Santa Anita Handicap since Alysheba and Ferdinand ran one-two in 1988.
It's the highlight of an outstanding 11-race program that also includes the Grade I, $350,000 Frank E. Kilroe Mile, the Grade II, $300,000 San Felipe Stakes for 3-year-olds and the Grade II, $250,000 San Carlos Stakes. The early first post time is noon.
Mucho Macho Man, based on the East Coast, could have been taken to Dubai to run in the $10-million Dubai World Cup, but the fact Mucho Macho Man has run so well at Santa Anita, and is now partly owned by Santa Anita owner Frank Stronach, made the decision to race here a lot easier.
Mucho Macho Man has two wins and a second in three races over the Arcadia track. Jockey Gary Stevens is three for three since he took over the reins, and Ritvo has complete confidence in relying on her Hall of Fame jockey for strategy.
"We're going to leave it up to him," she said. "They're a winning combination."
In his only race this year, Mucho Macho Man took the Sunshine Millions Classic in Florida by 14 lengths on Jan. 18. He'll be carrying 124 pounds Saturday. Will Take Charge, the Eclipse Award winner last year as the top 3-year-old, figures to offer strong competition, along with Game On Dude, who will be ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith.
Ritvo's most memorable moment in racing came last November in becoming the first female trainer to win the Breeders' Cup Classic.
"It was an amazing day," she said. "It was great competition."
Mucho Macho Man's development as a top handicap horse has helped his breeding potential, and Ritvo believes the son of Macho Uno is better than ever.
"We run him always when he's ready," she said. "He's been eating very well, he trains very well. He's happy on the track. It makes me happy."
The San Felipe will offer 50 points to the winner toward qualifying for the Kentucky Derby and is the final major tuneup for the April 5 Santa Anita Derby.
California Chrome is a California-bred who won the California Cup Derby on Jan. 25 and has been recording fast training times at Los Alamitos in preparation for Saturday's race.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times