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MUCHO MACHO MAN CRUSHES OPPOSITION IN GRADE I AWESOME AGAIN, STAGE SET FOR $5 MILLION BREEDERS’ CUP CLASSIC AT GREAT RACE PLACE NOV. 2
By BETH HARRIS
AP Racing Writer
ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) _ Mucho Macho Man tuned up for another try in the Breeders' Cup, winning the $250,000 Awesome Again Stakes by 4¼ lengths at Santa Anita on Saturday.
Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens earned back-to-back Grade 1 wins aboard Mucho Macho Man and Beholder in the Zenyatta Stakes, two of the five Grade 1 races with Breeders' Cup implications at the host track for the world championships.
Mucho Macho Man was runner-up in last year's BC Classic. Saturday's win gave him an automatic berth in the race on Nov. 2, with his entry fees paid.
"This horse only has to make up a neck from last year's Breeders' Cup Classic, and I think he's a bigger, stronger horse than he was last year," Stevens said.
The 5-year-old Florida-bred ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.30 and paid $5.20, $3.20 and $2.80 as the 9-5 favorite in the field of 10. Mucho Macho Man snapped a five-race skid with his first Grade 1 victory, and first win since the Suburban Handicap on July 7, 2012.
"He's got a big, beautiful stride," said Stevens, who launched a comeback earlier this year at 50.
Mucho Macho Man has been at Santa Anita for nearly three weeks.
"He seems to thrive here," trainer Kathy Ritvo said.
Paynter returned $4.40 and $4. Soi Phet, who was claimed for $16,000 in May, was another 2¼ lengths back in third and paid $12.60 to show.
Paynter, one of three entries trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, ended a two-race skid. The 4-year-old colt overcame a life-threatening illness to race again in June, and showed Saturday that he can contend against top talent.
"He was behind there," Baffert said. "He took a lot of dirt; actually he settled pretty well and came wide. He was finishing up really well."
In the previous race, Stevens guided Beholder to a 1¼-length victory in the $250,000 Zenyatta Stakes against a deep field of fillies and mares in front of 12,216 fans.
Beholder ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.11. She paid $5.20, $3.60 and $2.10 as the 3-2 favorite on owner B. Wayne Hughes' 80th birthday. The 3-year-old filly is trained by Richard Mandella, who gave Beholder four months off after she finished second in the Kentucky Oaks in May.
She returned this month at Del Mar and won easily on that track's synthetic surface, a race that Mandella thought would give Beholder confidence before facing older fillies and mares in the Zenyatta.
"Gary is a great rider. He always has been ... but I don't want to take away from the filly," Mandella said. "The filly's very special. She couldn't look any better or be doing any better, so I had a lot of confidence."
Authenticity returned $4.80 and $3, having shipped in from New York for trainer Todd Pletcher. Joyful Victory also shipped in and paid $2.60 to show after being the runner-up a year ago.
The victory gave Beholder an automatic berth in the BC Distaff in November.