But the Classic often brings the whole racing season to a perfect conclusion by deciding the horse of the year. Not this time. The leading contender for that title, Game on Dude, gave a dismal showing in this event for the second straight year, finishing ninth, and probably blew his chances again. Mucho Macho Man was scoring only his second victory of the year, so he hasn’t done enough. By default, the sport’s top honor may fall to Wise Dan, the 2012 horse of the year, who won the Mile for the second straight year but had to work hard to defeat an ordinary field.
Mucho Macho Man had finished a close second in the Classic last year, and trainer Kathy Ritvo set her sights on this race months ago. She ran her horse in a prep race here in late September, and his runaway victory suggested that he was coming into the race in peak condition. But so, too, was Game on Dude.
Game on Dude broke to the lead, then stalked two of the other speed horses in the field; he appeared to be in perfect striking position on the backstretch. When Mucho Macho Man loomed outside him, a head-and-head battle between the two top contenders seemed imminent. But Game on Dude started to fade immediately, confirming his reputation as a talented animal who can’t win the big one. “I don’t know what else I could have done,” jockey Mike Smith said.
Mucho Macho Man’s battle would be with the two stretch-runners. As they hit the wire, Stevens raised his whip in triumph, celebrating his greatest win since coming out of retirement a year ago. “This is a dream come true,” he said. “This is the one race missing from my résumé.”
Wise Dan came into the Mile with a résumé that included the 2012 horse of the year title and nine straight victories on the grass. He was favored at 4 to 5 against a subpar field for the $2 million event.
The presence of two fast front-runners, Obviously and Silver Max, figured to create a fast pace that would help Wise Dan’s late kick. That’s what happened: Obviously rocketed the first half mile in 44.47 seconds. As the leader started to weaken, however, it wasn’t Wise Dan poised to take the lead. Jockey Jose Lezcano — substituting for John Velazquez, who was seriously injured earlier in the day — still had Wise Dan sitting in the middle of the pack. It was long shot Za Approval who blew past the leaders. When Wise Dan started to accelerate on the turn, it was clear that the champion had a fight on his hands. But he finally wore the leader down, as track announcer Trevor Denman called, “Wise Dan won on all his class!”