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BALTIMORE, MD – A nose kept from him becoming a first-time stakes winner in his previous start, but there would be no denying WSS Racing and 4G Racing’s Mucho the honor against a salty field in Saturday’s $100,000 Challedon at historic Pimlico Race Course.
The 35th running of the 6-furlong Challedon for 3-year-olds and up was the last of 3 $100,000 stakes on the final program of July, preceded by Hello Beautiful’s victory in the Alma North and Harpers First Ride’s triumph in the Deputed Testamony. All 3 races are part of the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championship (MATCH) Series.
Mucho ($7.20) took the lead at the top of the stretch and turned back late challenges from multiple stakes winners Laki, Lebda, and Whereshetoldmetogo for a 1-length victory in 1:10.09 over a fast main track under jockey Reylu Gutierrez.
“I told Rey, this horse is only getting sharper. Don’t take anything away from the break,” Midwest-based winning trainer John Ortiz said. “Honestly, this is Rey’s victory. He did everything right on the horse. He made all the right strategical moves. When he broke sharp, he kind of asked a little bit and made the horse on the inside chase and push and go through, and all we needed was a target. We needed a little speed, and he got it.”
Jockey J.D. Acosta was forced to hustle Lebda from his rail post to get by the alert-breaking Mucho, and was in front after a 1/4-mile in 22.96 seconds. Grade 3 winner Laki and 3/2 favorite Whereshetoldmetogo, who have combined to win 13 stakes, raced side-by-side in behind with 37/1 long shot Whiskey and You trailing the field.
Laki maintained the lead following a 1/2 in 45.83 with Mucho turning up the pressure and Laki and Whereshetoldmetogo poised to strike while in the clear on the outside. Mucho forged a short lead once straightened for home, dug in past the 1/8 pole, and had plenty left to keep his challengers at bay.
Lebda held second by a neck over Whereshetoldmetogo, with Laki another 1/2-length back in fourth.
Second as a 2-year-old in the 2018 Hopeful (G1) for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, Mucho came up just short of multiple stakes winner Bango in the 7-furlong Kelly’s Landing June 25 at Churchill Downs. In his prior start, he finished ahead of both Laki and Lebda when fourth in the Maryland Sprint (G3) May 15 at Pimlico on the undercard of the 146th Preakness Stakes (G1).
“The horse broke delightful today. Johnny’s so good at getting horses out of the gate, with his morning training and routine,” Gutierrez said. “Watching his last going 7/8, I said, ‘If he breaks sharp like that again today cutting back to 3/4, I’m going to keep him there and keep him engaged.’ I was able to make Lebda use a lot of horse to get the lead and I just had the trip. From the 1/2 to the 3/8 (pole), I got a really great breather to finish.
“This group of horses will probably be facing each other multiple times this year. Every trainer in this field, they do an amazing job with their stables and they’re highly competitive, so I’m very proud of our horse,” he added. “He beat them in the Maryland Sprint a couple starts ago, so I really was expecting the same type of performance with him putting himself forwardly placed. I loved every second of it.”
Mucho is a 5-year-old son of Blame, the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner and champion older horse of 2010. Ortiz hinted Mucho could find himself at the year-end championships should his star continue to rise.
“This horse has only been improving. He’s gained more weight and is getting sharper and stronger. That’s all we needed,” he said. “There might be a couple more starts before we end up in Del Mar, you never know. You gotta dream big, right?”
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