Mucho Macho Man (right) beats Declaration Of War at Santa AnitaPICTURE: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Mucho Macho Man holds on for Stevens in Classic
Report: USA, Saturday
Santa Anita: Breeders' Cup Classic (Grade 1) 3yo+, 1m2f
MUCHO MACHO MAN held on by an ever-diminishing margin from Will Take Charge to give comeback jockey Gary Stevens a first Breeders' Cup Classic victory at the age of 50.
Stevens only returned to the saddle after a seven-year hiatus in January, but since then has enjoyed an extraordinary season, including a win in the Preakness.
"You just made an old man very happy," he said to the winning trainer, Kathy Ritvo.
Ritvo, who received a heart transplant five years ago, became the first female trainer to win the race.
"I am just so excited and very blessed to be here today," she said. "When Gary shook his stick I just thought we had it and he ran fantastic."
It was a desperately close finish, with Will Take Charge and Aidan O'Brien's Declaration Of War both bearing down on the winner as they flashed past the post.
Stevens had sent Mucho Macho Man into the lead turning for home, but Declaration Of War, running on dirt for the first time, was running a huge race hot on his heels.
It was only in the last few yards that Mucho Macho Man looked in danger of losing the race. Will Take Charge came with a tremendous run and Declaration Of War picked up to launch a last challenge, but the leader hung on by the slimmest of margins for an emotional victory.
"I was in the perfect stalking position all the way. He got a little frisky with me coming into the stretch and I said hold on there boy. I love this horse," said Stevens.
O'Brien was thrilled by Declaration Of War and the ride his son Joseph gave the Royal Ascot winner.
"Did you see the way he travelled?" he said. "He was in a great position and fought all the way. It was an incredible run for his first time on dirt.
"I don't think Joseph could have given him a better ride."