Bob Baffert’s stranglehold on possible Kentucky Derby starters got a little tighter on a dreary, wet Saturday afternoon at Santa Anita when Mucho Gusto won the $150,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes with veritable ease.
However, Baffert could not come up with a victory in the $200,000 San Pasqual Stakes, when heavily favored McKinzie lost a spirited stretch duel with Battle of Midway.
Mucho Gusto is the latest promise-filled 3-year-old Baffert is trying to get to the Derby. He joins Game Winner, the undefeated winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and Improbable, the undefeated winner of the Los Alamitos Futurity. He also has Coliseum and Roadster as colts who have shown unrealized potential but could develop in time for the Triple Crown trail.
“This is the time of the year when you want to start getting excited about something,” Baffert said. “To me, it’s like the Derby kicked in [Saturday]. This is where you can start dreaming a little bit. We’re still dreaming in Technicolor, but they have to start performing and they have to start moving forward from here.”
The victory was important to Mucho Gusto in that he showed he can come from off the pace. Magnificent McCool and Kid Cantina set the early pace in the 1 1/16-mile race. Early in the backstretch, Kid Cantina took a bad step, suffering a catastrophic injury to his left front leg. He was euthanized off the track.
Mucho Gusto went to the lead on the far turn and took a two-length advantage into the stretch. He widened it to 4¾ lengths with no effort over second-place Gunmetal Gray. Easy Shot and Magnificent McCool finished the remainder of the field. Mucho Gusto paid $3.20, $2.20 and $2.10.
Mucho Gusto’s only loss in three races was a second to Improbable in the Los Alamitos Futurity.
One problem with having so many good horses is to figure out where to run them next as the thinking is generally not to run your best horses against each other for the same purse money. Baffert, either because he doesn’t know or he’s very skilled at subterfuge, or a little of both, gave no hints as to Mucho Gusto’s next race.
“I want to run him in spots where he’s going to be very competitive, and we have those other horses, so it depends on what the other horses are doing,” Baffert said. “Right now, I’m going to nominate my horses everywhere and whoever’s doing great that week runs in that race. … Let the games begin.”
Jockey Joe Talamo was on his own as to what to do with the colt in the Lewis.
“[Talamo] said, ‘What should I do?’ ” Baffert said about his prerace instructions. “I said, ‘You need to win this race. That’s what you need to do.”
And Talamo followed instructions.
“[Mucho Gusto] settled [Saturday] like he’s been doing this 1,000 times,” Talamo said. “He’s a 3-year-old but he feels like an older horse. He’s got a great mind.”
Mucho Gusto was bought for $625,000 by Michael Lund Petersen, one of the founders of Pandora Jewelry. He came in from the Baltimore area for the race.
“I even texted Bob to see if I should come in for the race and he was very confident,” Petersen said. “That’s pretty good.”
Good was also how trainer Jerry Hollendorfer described Battle of Midway’s half a length victory over McKinzie.
“He’s really a good horse,” Hollendorfer said. “I hope what he can do this year will give him a lot more credit than what he already has.”
Battle of Midway was not supposed to be racing this year. In his 3-year-old campaign, he finished third in the Derby and then won the Breeders’ Cup Mile. He was retired to begin a career as a stallion but had low success in getting mares in foal. So, he returned to the track.
Giant Expectations went to the lead in the 1 1/8-mile race. He was being pressed by Battle of Midway and McKinzie. Entering the stretch, Battle of Midway and McKinzie moved away from the pack and matched strides for most of the stretch. In the last 50 yards, jockey Flavien Prat pushed Battle of Midway to the lead on the outside.
Battle of Midway paid $6.80, $2.60 and $2.10. Giant Expectation was third followed by Pavel and Dalmore. Dabster, Shivermetimbers and Sonneteer were early scratches because of the sloppy track conditions.
Battle of Midway’s next race is unknown.
“I think the owners might run in Dubai,” Hollendorfer said. “But I might want to stay home [and run in the Santa Anita Handicap].”