Favored Mucho Gusto was all business on Saturday at Santa Anita, as he rated kindly and exploded the final eighth of a mile to take the Grade III, $150,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes by 4 ¾ lengths under Joe Talamo. Trained by Bob Baffert, the chestnut colt by Mucho Macho Man got a mile and one sixteenth over a sloppy track in 1:41.81.
A comfortable third into and around the Club House turn, Mucho Gusto was well within himself as he stalked Magnificent McCool while second heading to the far turn. Five sixteenths of a mile from home, he took command and accelerated through the lane like a top Derby prospect to win with his ears pricked.
“Every race, he’s getting better and better,” said Talamo, who’s ridden him in all four of his starts. “He settled today like he’s been doing this a hundred times…He galloped out real strong. I don’t think distance is going to be any problem. At the three eighths (pole), I was pretty confident. He’s a 3-year-old, but he feels like an older horse.”
Idle since running second to his highly regarded stablemate Improbable in the Grade I Los Alamitos Futurity Dec. 8, Mucho Gusto, who is out of the Giant’s Causeway mare Itsagiantcauseway, was off at 3-5 in a field of five sophomores and paid $3.20, $2.20 and $2.10.
Owned by Michael Lund Petersen, Mucho Gusto, who was purchased for $625,000 at a 2-year-old in training sale this past May, picked up $90,000 for the win, hiking his earnings to $234,000. He now has three wins from four starts and he picked up 10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points as well.
“He got to sit off the pace, which was good,” said Baffert. “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 (Talamo) was on his own. I didn’t give him any instructions…He’s a good horse. He’s a fighter, too. If they’d have hooked him, he likes to fight.
“This is the time of the year when you want to start getting excited about something…I want to run him in spots where he’s going to be very competitive, and we have those other horses, so it depends on what the other horses are doing. Right now, I’m going to nominate my horses everywhere and whoever’s doing great that week runs in that race…Let the games begin.”
Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer and ridden by Mike Smith, Gunmetal Gray, a deep closer, had his work cut out for him in the short field. With what developed into a reasonable early pace, he rallied well from last to catch Easy Shot late, finishing second by a half length.
A winner of the Grade III Sham Stakes here on Jan. 5, he was the second choice at 8-5 and paid $2.40 and $2.10.
Ridden by Rafael Bejarano, the Keith Desormeaux-trained Easy Shot was off at 12-1 and paid $2.60 to show while finishing 2 ¼ lengths clear of Magnificent Cool.
Fractions on the race were 23.67, 46.55, 1:10.51 and 1:35.57.
The second, third and fourth place finishers picked up four, two and one Kentucky Derby qualifying point(s) each.
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