The apparent clear pacesetter on paper in a field of four, Michael Lund Petersen’s 3-year-old Mucho Macho Man colt got out of the gate best, but when Kid Cantina and Magnificent McCool sped up on the inside, Mucho Gusto relaxed in third as he traveled into the first turn.
The stalking tactics worked out perfectly, as Mucho Gusto advanced late in the backstretch run of the 1 1/16-mile test, moved to the front on the final turn, and dominated the stretch run to win by 4 3/4 lengths.
“Every race he’s getting better and better,” Talamo said of colt who won the Bob Hope Stakes in November at Del Mar and finished second to Bob Baffert-trained stablemate Improbable in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity on Dec. 8. “I’m glad I’ve been working him, because he’s worked better, too. He settled today like he’s been doing this a hundred times.”
Without any challenge late, Mucho Gusto finished off the distance in 1:41.81 on a sloppy-sealed track.
“He got to sit off the pace, which is good,” Baffert said. “They have to learn to do that, and I was really happy with Joe. He rode him with a lot of confidence today, like he was a good horse, and he was on his own. I didn’t give him any instructions.
“He said, ‘What should I do?’ I said, ‘You need to win this race. That’s what you need to do.’ ”
Magnificent McCool had a head in front of Kid Cantina through an opening quarter in :23.67, but the race was marred when Kid Cantina broke down early on the backstretch. The California-bred Richard’s Kid gelding, who came into the race off a second in a Santa Anita starter allowance, was euthanized after the race, according to the California Horse Racing Board stewards at Santa Anita.
Without the pace pressure from Kid Cantina, Magnificent McCool opened up a 2 1/2-length lead through a half-mile in :46.55, but when he hit six furlongs in 1:10.51, Mucho Gusto was only a head behind.
“He ran OK,” said Gunmetal Gray’s jockey, Mike Smith. “He was climbing a lot. He had a lot to [overcome].”
Bred in Kentucky by Teneri Farm and Bernardo Alvarez Calderon out of the Giant’s Causeway mare Itsagiantcauseway, Mucho Gusto now has three wins and $234,000 in earnings from his four starts. Baffert said earlier in the week the colt could hit the road for his next race on the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve trail.
“I texted Bob to see if I should come for the race and he was very confident,” Petersen said after the race. “That’s pretty good.”