Flat Out/Ron the Greek – Trainer Bill Mott’s veteran duo, Flat Out and Ron the Greek, galloped on the main track Wednesday. Ron the Greek went to the paddock and stood at the gate, but Flat Out, who has made 27 career starts and was third in the 2012 Classic, went out too late to participate in the schooling.
Earlier this year, Flat Out won the Westchester and Suburban handicaps in New York and Ron the Greek turned in an eye-popping performance on Sept. 28 to win the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park.
Ron the Greek’s Gold Cup surprised Mott, who said the 6yo is very dependable but rarely is able to pair top efforts. He hasn’t had back-to-back wins since late in 2011. “We’re not disappointed,” Mott said. “He has been such a good servant for us and what a wonderful horse to be around. He’s just the kindest, nicest horse. He’s kind of a barn favorite. He doesn’t owe us anything. Neither horse owes us anything. Whatever they do and win on Saturday it’s all a bonus.”
Flat Out and Ron the Greek are part of group of five runners – the top four finishers and beaten favorite Game On Dude – that are returning for another start in the Classic. Mott said the quality of competition matches what lined up for the $5 million purse 12 months ago.
“It’s a great field. Good, solid horses,” he said. “It’s a lot of the same horses that were in here last year. It’s great that those horses can stick around and be back for more.”
Mott said that his horses seem to be under the radar a bit while most of the attention is on the likes of Game On Dude, Fort Larned and Mucho Macho Man.
“Because they’ve beaten each other and they have been a factor in every race, but they haven’t been the dominant force,” Mott said. “It’s amazing how quickly people get off horses. They get off of Royal Delta and I haven’t heard anything about Wise Dan after he runs second one time. It’s almost like people get off of them a little bit.
“Fort Larned is the returning champion and Game On Dude hasn’t been beaten in a while. They’re just so obvious. People don’t look past the fact that they won their last race sometimes. I don’t know that that’s always the most important factor. It’s good to see them coming off a good race.”
Fort Larned – Janis Whitham’s defending Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Fort Larned had an easy first morning on Wednesday at Santa Anita, walking outside of Barn 99 with exercise rider Katie Merritt up.
“He worked Monday at Churchill Downs and then had a long flight yesterday,” trainer Ian Wilkes said. “Actually this is what he did last year only he did it at Churchill Downs because we came in a day later.”
The plane bringing Fort Larned to Santa Anita left Louisville shortly after 2 Tuesday afternoon, made a one-hour stop in Oklahoma City and arrived at Ontario International shortly before 5 p.m. local time.
Wilkes said Fort Larned would gallop the next two mornings, going out at 6:30 each day in his quest to become the second two-time winner of the Classic, joining Tiznow (2000-01).
Fort Larned has the pedigree to accomplish the repeat. His grandmother, Bayakoa, won the Distaff in 1989 at Gulfstream Park and in 1990 at Belmont Park.
Game On Dude/Paynter – Trainer Bob Baffert galloped all eight of his Breeders’ Cup runners Wednesday morning at Santa Anita, including his two Classic starters Game On Dude and Paynter.
Baffert has spoken all week about how he’s expecting big things from Game On Dude and how he believes the amazing comeback horse Paynter will be “right there” at the finish of the 1 1/4m Classic. He said more of the same Wednesday morning, then spoke about a special connection that his potential Horse of the Year hero Game On Dude has.
“I called Joe Torre (the baseball superstar who is one of the owners of Game On Dude) the other day after ‘Dude’ worked so well,” Baffert said. “He was in a meeting about umpires and he had to call me back. But when he did, he was really fired up. He’s into this horse. If Game On Dude was a human, he’d be just like Joe – kind and classy. What a gentleman and nice guy he is. Joe’s low-key, but he’s really excited about this horse.”
Palace Malice – Dogwood Stable’s Palace Malice galloped at Santa Anita Wednesday morning, readying for his 10th start of the year in Saturday’s Classic. The 3yo son of Curlin hasn’t missed a beat since launching his 2013 campaign at Gulfstream on Jan. 19.
“It says a lot about him, physically and mentally, that he’s been able to do that,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “He seems to thrive on it, actually. He’s gained weight through the process and has gotten bigger and stronger as he’s gone along.”
Not that everything has gone smoothly, particularly early in the season when he encountered traffic and rough trips in prep races for the Kentucky Derby, and the Derby, itself.
“It was frustrating but it made winning the Belmont that much more satisfying,” Pletcher said.
The Classic will be a stiff challenge for all 12 horses entered said Pletcher.
“It’s a really deep field. It’s one of those things where you wouldn’t be surprised if a number of different horses win it. Fort Larned to win it again it wouldn’t surprise you. If Mucho Macho Man, judging by the way he ran in the Awesome Again, won it, it wouldn’t surprise you. Game On Dude certainly wouldn’t surprise you,” Pletcher said. “And you’re not even talking about Ron the Greek, Flat Out, Palace Malice or Will Take Charge. It’s a nasty race.”
Last Gunfighter – Trainer Chad Brown is very candid in his assessment of the Last Gunfighter’s chances in the Breeders’ Cup Classic: he’s got a tough assignment.
The 4yo First Samurai colt bred and owned by John Gunther is a consistent runner, who has won three Graded stakes in 2013. Brown said he is aiming high by entering Last Gunfighter in the $5 million Classic.
“He needs to run a career race, first of all,” Brown said. “No. 1, he needs to put up the best number he has ever put up. No. 2, he’s going to need his share of racing luck. He needs to get a clean trip and save ground and needs some of the top contenders to maybe not have their best day. That may result in him getting a piece of the purse.”
Last Gunfighter galloped on the main track at Santa Anita Wednesday morning.
Moreno – Southern Equine Stable’s Moreno jogged 1 1/2m Wednesday morning before heading to the paddock for a schooling lesson for trainer Eric Guillot.
The 3yo gelded son of Ghostzapper required a lot of patience on the part of Guillot as it took him 10 starts to break his maiden which came in June at Belmont Park after a winless 2yo season. The long dry spell did not deter Guillot, who explained the situation thusly: “He had a lot of little issues throughout that time, including being gelded. But he finally put it together.”
Mucho Macho Man – Reeves Thoroughbred Racing’s Mucho Macho Man galloped 1 1/2m before visiting the Santa Anita paddock Wednesday morning.
Stable manager Finn Green liked what he saw from the Awesome Again Stakes winner.
“He did great. He knows what’s going on,” Green said. “He’s a professional. He’s happy, very, very happy.”
Green credited trainer Kathy Ritvo with making Mucho Macho Man a happy horse.
“Kathy’s done a great job. She’s a good horsewoman, a very, very good horsewoman. She pays attention to detail. She knows her horses,” Green said. “She’s on his legs every day. She put the bandages on his legs this morning. I think she’s one of the most under-rated trainers around.”
Planteur – see European report
Will Take Charge – It was a routine day for Will Take Charge as trainer D. Wayne Lukas sent him out for a 1 1/2m gallop Wednesday.
“The colt is doing really well,” Lukas said.
As for 3yo runners going against older horses in the Classic, Lukas said, “Historically, 3-year-olds have done well in the Classic. I won with Cat Thief, so I don’t worry about the age thing.”
As for how the race might shape up, he said, “You have a good blend of early speed, middle-of-the-race stalkers and late runners. It should be an honest pace and a good race.”