The 2013 Breeders' Cup World Championships conclude Saturday with the $5 million Classic, which is far and away the biggest purse in the series and features an elite 12-horse field.
Santa Anita Park was the site of an epic showdown last year between current defending champion Fort Larned and close runner-up Mucho Macho Man. The two horses had a thrilling wire-to-wire finish and should be forces to be reckoned with yet again.
Game On Dude is the odds-on favorite at 8-to-5, out for revenge after being the No. 1 choice in oddsmakers' eyes before finishing seventh in 2012.
Below is an overview of the entire field, with more detailed analysis on Game On Dude, a dark horse to watch for and a predicted race winner.
|1||Last Gunfighter||Javier Castellano||Chad Brown||20-1|
|2||Paynter||Martin Garcia||Bob Baffert||12-1|
|3||Planteur||Ryan Moore||Marco Botti||20-1|
|4||Moreno||Joseph Talamo||Eric Guillot||15-1|
|5||Declaration of War||Joseph O'Brien||Aidan O'Brien||10-1|
|6||Mucho Macho Man||Gary Stevens||Kathy Ritvo||5-1|
|7||Fort Larned||Brian Hernandez Jr.||Ian Wilkes||6-1|
|8||Palace Malice||John Velazquez||Todd Pletcher||10-1|
|9||Game On Dude||Mike Smith||Bob Baffert||8-5|
|10||Will Take Charge||Luis Saez||D. Wayne Lukas||12-1|
|11||Ron the Greek||Jose Lezcano||William Mott||8-1|
|12||Flat Out||Joel Rosario||William Mott||12-1|
The Favorite: Game On Dude
A win back in March's Santa Anita Handicap was one of three Grade 1 victories for Game On Dude in 2013. Combine that with three additional triumphs, and it's not hard to see why he's the favorite.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert and ridden by jockey Mike Smith—who has the most wins in Breeders' Cup history, passing Jerry Bailey by capturing the Ladies' Classic last year—this horse has a formidable tandem supporting him.
Funny enough, Smith won the Classic aboard Drosselmeyer in 2011, beating out Game On Dude down the final stretch. It certainly helps both Baffert and the horse that Smith is on their side this time around.
Game On Dude last competed at the TVG Pacific Classic Stakes at Del Mar in late August, where he won by a whopping 8.5 lengths.
At six years old, though, the gelding's window to compete in championship races like the Classic is all but shut after this season.
That only adds to the stakes and the pressure, as Baffert is seeking a first Classic win to add to his remarkable resume.
Dark Horse to Watch: Declaration of War
Precocious 20-year-old jockey Joseph O'Brien will ride his father Aidan's great hope in the Classic. The odds are favorable for a wager at 10-to-1, and the O'Briens are proven commodities.
The young Irish jockey recently broke the record for victories at his age with his 117th winner of the season on Oct. 10, per Thomas Kelly of the Independent.
With past trophies accumulated at marquee races such as the Epsom Derby, the Irish Guineas Stakes and other huge events overseas, it's safe to say O'Brien is experienced beyond his limited years.
Renowned analyst Larry Zap believes this thoroughbred is the X-factor in the Classic:
Declaration of War won the International Stakes with O'Brien getting the mount at York Racecourse, and he has both the pedigree and legitimate physical tools to thrive at Santa Anita.
Projected Winner: Mucho Macho Man
Last year's close call has to give Mucho Macho Man's connections plenty of confidence that he can do one better this time around.
That notion is fortified by the five-year-old's most recent winning ride at Santa Anita on Sept. 28, where he won the Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes.
Who will win the Classic?
It was a critical first win for Mucho Macho Man in 2013. For a horse so talented, it is a wonder he hasn't found the winner's circle more often.
However, his third-place finish at the 2011 Kentucky Derby and his runner-up in last year's Classic prove he can compete with anyone.
Mucho Macho Man has the benefit of Gary Stevens on his side, who has won each Triple Crown event three times and is no stranger to the big stage.
Stevens has been resurgent since coming out of retirement, winning the Preakness Stakes aboard Oxbow earlier this year. He is a good judge of talent and will have made the right call when he rides to the winner's circle Saturday, as he did mounting Mucho Macho Man in the horse's last victory.