Mucho Macho Man (right) won a thrilling Breeders' Cup Classic last yearPICTURE: atthew Stockman/Getty Images
Classic duo set to clash again at Santa Anita
Preview: USA, Saturday 12am GMT
Santa Anita: Santa Anita Hcap (Grade 1) 1m2f, dirt, 4yo+
MUCHO MACHO MAN and Will Take Charge, the protagonists in a thrilling Breeders' Cup Classic in November, return to California on Saturday for a hugely anticipated rematch in the storied Santa Anita Handicap.
Local hero Game On Dude, who has won two of the last three runnings of the race known colloquially as the Big 'Cap, is reduced to playing third fiddle in what promises to be a titanic encounter.
Mucho Macho Man (Kathy Ritvo/Gary Stevens) shoulders top weight of 8st12lb - just a pound more than Travers Stakes hero Will Take Charge (D Wayne Lukas/Luis Saez), whose late rally failed by just a nose to catch his rival in an unforgettable climax to North America's most valuable race over course and distance four months ago.
Will Take Charge defeated his elders in the Grade 1 Clark at Churchill Downs four weeks after the Breeders' Cup en route to being named America's three-year-old champ - but he was beaten on his seasonal debut when failing to concede 6lb to the useful Lea, who broke the track record in a sizzling effort in the Donn Handicap.
Mucho Macho Man made no mistake in his warm-up, scoring by 14 lengths in the Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream.
The six-year-old loves Santa Anita, however, where his only defeat came in a narrow reverse to Fort Larned in the 2012 Breeders' Cup Classic. He has also formed a famous partnership with Gary Stevens, unbeaten in three outings on the star.
"Everybody rants and raves about how much he loves this racetrack," said Stevens.
"I'm not taking anything lightly but I know what the horse is capable of. I'm going to ride him with a lot confidence, like he's the best horse in the world."
Will Take Charge and Mucho Macho Man are drawn eyeball-to-eyeball in gates one and two, with Game On Dude (Bob Baffert/Mike Smith) drawn seven of eight. He is bidding to become the first three-time winner of the Big 'Cap after scoring in 2011 and 2013; he missed the race in 2012 when he went to Dubai.
After a dismal display in the Classic, where he disappointed as favourite for the second time, Game On Dude was beaten a head by Will Take Charge in the Clark - and he has a 4lb pull at Saturday's weights. He ran poorly on his seasonal debut but boasts a seven-from-ten career record at Santa Anita and may well be able to dictate.
A top-class field also includes San Antonio Stakes winner Blingo (John Shirreffs/Aaron Gryder).
Ladbrokes: 7-4 Will Take Charge, Mucho Macho Man, 7-2 Game On Dude, 16 Blingo, 20 Rousing Sermon, Hear the Ghost, 25 Imperative, 50 American Blend
Also on Saturday
Tampa Bay Downs: Hillsborough Stakes (Grade 3) 1m1f, turf, 4yo+ f/m (9.25pm GMT)
Ribblesdale Stakes winner Riposte (Bill Mott/Julien Leparoux) will be strongly fancied after enduring a troubled passage in a Grade 3 event at Gulfstream last month on her US debut.
>>Royal Ascot target Bobby's Kitten (Chad Brown/Javier Castellano) returns to action when he takes on Grade 3 winner Global View in a 1m turf allowance event (7.55pm GMT)
Tampa Bay Downs: Tampa Bay Derby (Grade 2) 1m½f, dirt, 3yo (10.25pm GMT)
A significant Kentucky Derby trial in which victory for Conquest Titan (Mark Casse/Shaun Bridgmohan) would boost the form of Classic favourite Cairo Prince, who beat him by nearly six lengths in the Holy Bull.
Vinceremos (Todd Pletcher/Edgar Prado) stepped up from a maiden win to take last month's Sam F Davis Stakes, which means he must concede 4lb all round. His trainer won this in 2013 with Verrazano.
Ladbrokes: 3 Conquest Titan, 9-2 Vinceremos, 5 Surfing USA, 6 Matador, 8 Cousin Stephen, 10 bar
Santa Anita: San Felipe Stakes (Grade 2) 1m½f, dirt, 3yo (10pm GMT)
Much of the interest here evaporated when highly rated Bayern was ruled out with a stone bruise, leaving California Chrome (Art Sherman/Victor Espinoza) as likely favourite after dominating stakes-bred company on recent starts.
Bayern's stablemate Midnight Hawk (Bob Baffert/Mike Smith) is out to put himself back in the Kentucky Derby reckoning after disappointing as favourite for last month's Robert B Lewis.
Gulfstream Park: Gulfstream Park Hcap (Grade 2) 1m, dirt, 4yo+ (10.10pm GMT)
Belmont Stakes victor Palace Malice (Todd Pletcher/John Velazquez) returns for his first start since finishing sixth in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
The four-year-old gives away a couple of pounds to the likes of Preakness runner-up Itsmyluckyday (Eddie Plesa/Paco Lopez) and Golden Ticket (Ken McPeek/Manny Cruz) and Brujo De Olleros (Rick Mettee/Corey Lanerie), second and third in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.
Santa Anita: San Carlos Stakes (Grade 2) 7f, dirt, 4yo+ (11pm GMT)
Met Mile winner Sahara Sky (Jerry Holldendorfer/Joel Rosario) breaks from the rail against nine opponents as he bids to repeat last year's success.
Shakin It Up (Bob Baffert/Mike Smith), who has an outside post, is four out of five at Santa Anita after winning both the Malibu and the Strub at this meet.
Santa Anita: Kilroe Mile (Grade 1) 1m, turf, 4yo+ (11.30pm GMT)
Za Approval (Christophe Clement/Joel Rosario), who got to within three-quarters of a length of Wise Dan in the Breeders' Cup Mile, bids for his first Grade 1 success against a mixed bag of turfers, among them recent Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap winner Lochte (Marcus Vitali/Orlando Bocachica) and Argentine champ Winning Prize (Neil Drysdale/Corey Nakatani), who is on the Royal Ascot radar.
Last year's winner Suggestive Boy (Ron McAnally/Joe Talamo) also has chances of repeating the dose after showing promise on his recent return to action after a layoff.