At first, Joe Talamo’s move aboard Mucho Gusto in the $150,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita Park seemed puzzling.
The apparent clear pacesetter on paper in a field of five, 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 perfectly, as Mucho Gusto advanced late in the backstretch run of the 1 1/16-mile test, moved to the front in 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 the colt who won the Bob Hope Stakes (G3) in November at Del Mar and finished second to Bob Baffert-trained stablemate Improbable in the Dec. 8 Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity (G1). “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 the distance in 1:41.81 over 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 in 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 a 2 1/2-length lead through a half in :46.55, but when he hit six furlongs in 1:10.51, Mucho Gusto was only a head behind. Last-out Sham Stakes (G3) winner Gunmetal Gray, who was last early, closed to pick up second, a half-length ahead of Easy Shot. Nolo Contestowas scratched before the race by trainer John Sadler, who said he made the decision because of the off track.
“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 was a $625,000 purchase by Petersen from Kirkwood Stables’ consignment to the 2018 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-Year-Olds in Training Sale. He now has three wins and $234,000 in earnings from his four starts. Baffert said earlier in the week the colt could ship out of state for his next prep race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
“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.