During his pre-race analysis for the eighth race Dec. 18 at Oaklawn, track announcer Vic Stauffer mentioned that one of the entrants, Mucho, had been his pick to capture the 2019 Kentucky Derby. That long-range forecast was based on Mucho’s blowout maiden victory as a 2-year-old in August 2018 at Saratoga.
Mucho, then with Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, didn’t make to the Kentucky Derby. In fact, Mucho has never made it to a two-turn race. But that is scheduled to change Saturday at Oaklawn when trainer John Ortiz starts Mucho in the $150,000 Fifth Season Stakes.
Mucho will be racing around two turns for the first time in the Fifth Season – a 1-mile event for older horses – after bankrolling $686,729 in 29 career starts, ranging from 5 ½ to 7 furlongs.
A 6-year-old son of 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Blame, Mucho races for WSS Racing (William Simon) and 4 G Racing (Brent and Sharilyn Gasaway). On behalf of WSS and 4 G, Ortiz claimed Mucho for $80,000 in November 2020 at Churchill Downs.
Mucho was Grade 1-placed as a 2-year-old for Mott and his breeders/owners, famed Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider (they campaigned Blame), before being lost through a $62,500 claim in November 2020 at Churchill Downs. Ortiz claimed Mucho in his next start.
“I believe I was in a four-way shake when he was in for the ($62,500), when Bill Mott dropped him in,” Ortiz said. “We lost that shake and luckily the new connections ran him back 12 days later for $80,000. I called my crew and told them, ‘This is a horse that I think is worth the money.’ Luckily, we were correct. We always hope to get these type of claims. He’s been very good to us. This horse owes us nothing. He has nothing to prove to us. To try something new with him, as an older, more mature horse and a horse who has learned to regulate his speed, I think it’s worth a try. It will only open up more opportunities during the ’22 year.”
In 10 starts last year for Ortiz, WSS and 4 G, Mucho’s stalk-and-pounce tactics netted three victories and $335,900 in earnings.
After winning a 6-furlong allowance race last January at Oaklawn, Mucho finished second, beaten a nose, in the $110,000 Kelly’s Landing Overnight Stakes at 7 furlongs June 25 at Churchill Downs, won the $100,000 Challedon Stakes at 6 furlongs July 31 at Pimlico and finished second, beaten a head, in the $300,000 Bet On Sunshine Stakes at 6 furlongs Nov. 6 at Churchill Downs. Mucho was a half-length winner of the Dec. 18 allowance race. It was also 6 furlongs.
The original plan to begin 2021, Ortiz said, was to wheel back Mucho in the Fifth Season after he was claimed. Instead, Ortiz opted for the opening-day allowance sprint.
“It turned out to be the right decision,” Ortiz said. “From then on, you saw what he developed into.”
Mucho, despite no two-turn experience, is the 7-2 second choice in the program for the Fifth Season. He had been under consideration for the $150,000 King Cotton Stakes for older sprinters Jan. 29, but Ortiz already has Hollis targeting that 6-furlong race. Simon and the Gasaways also own Hollis, who set a 5 ½-furlong track record (1:02.17) in a Dec. 10 allowance victory at Oaklawn. Mucho ran sixth in last year’s King Cotton, his only loss in three Oaklawn starts.
Illustrating how competitive racing was during the first 15 days of the meeting, high-profile owners M and M Racing (Mike and Mickala Sisk) and Danny Caldwell were a combined 0 for 31 through last Sunday.
M and M (0 for 23) has topped the owner’s standings at the last four Oaklawn meetings, highlighted by single-season records for victories (61) and purse earnings ($1,782,351) in 2019. Caldwell also is a four-time leading owner at Oaklawn, claiming titles in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.
Both Mike Sisk and Caldwell said Oaklawn’s expanded season – the Dec. 3 opening was the earliest in track history, which boosted the Kentucky presence – combined with intense activity at the claim box have made it tougher to win at the 2021-2022 meeting. Through last Sunday, 138 claims had totaled $3,052,750.
“None of us knew what to expect, right, this long meet,” Sisk said Thursday afternoon. “You had Remington still running. Claiming there (Oaklawn) is almost impossible, so it’s like you can’t give your horses up early in the meet because you’re not going to be able to claim any.”
M and M had already claimed 11 horses at the meet through Sunday, but lost six through claims. While winless entering the new race week, M and M had 10 runner-up finishes through last Sunday.
“Obviously, we haven’t been running aggressive like we normally do, either,” Sisk said. “We manufacture a lot of wins there. We haven’t manufactured any as of yet.”
Caldwell said focusing on his home track, Remington Park, contributed to his 0 for 8 mark through last Sunday. Caldwell is Remington’s all-time leading owner and secured his 12th title overall there in late December. Oaklawn had previously opened roughly a month later before adding 10 race dates in December, increasing the scheduled total to 66. Five dates (Dec. 3, Dec. 4, Dec. 10, Dec. 11 and Dec. 17) overlapped with Remington. Caldwell also is racing extensively this winter at Sam Houston.
“It’s gotten real tough,” Caldwell said Monday afternoon. “It’s kind of tough on me because I’m still at Remington whenever it starts. I’m going hard there to finish out that meet strong. Normally, I get a little bit of a break to come over to Oaklawn and kind of freshen up, but I didn’t get to do that this year.”
Like M and M, Caldwell leans heavily on the claim box to replenish stock and said he’d been outshook “at least eight or 10 times” through the first 15 days or racing.
“Probably more,” Caldwell said.
Both M and M and Caldwell have horses entered this weekend at Oaklawn, including Saturday’s $150,000 Fifth Season Stakes for older runners at 1 mile. Caldwell is scheduled to send out millionaire Rated R Superstar. M and M’s entrant is Thomas Shelby, a seven-time winner in 2021 and runner-up to heralded stablemate Lone Rock in the $200,000 Tinsel Stakes Dec. 18 at Oaklawn. Thomas Shelby won two races at the 2021 Oaklawn meeting for M and M, which finished with 20 in 69 starts overall.
“The only thing I haven’t accomplished at Oaklawn that a claimer can accomplish is get my picture made in the grass,” Sisk said. “Hopefully, we’ll get to do that on Saturday with Thomas Shelby.”
Win pictures following stakes races at Oaklawn are traditionally taken on the infield, near the finish line in the horseshoe-shaped hedge winner’s circle.
Gary and Mary West and Built Wright Stables (Norman and Lola Cash) entered Friday tied for the lead in the 2021-2022 owner’s standings with four victories.
West Coast trainer Jeff Metz is off and running at Oaklawn, sending out his first two starters of the 2021-2022 meeting last weekend and having another horse entered Sunday.
Metz, 55, has a division at Oaklawn for the first time this season. He also has strings this winter at Turf Paradise in Arizona (30 horses) and at Santa Anita in Southern California (eight). Metz’s Santa Anita barn is run by his daughter Zoe, who is also a professional equine photographer.
“Just wanted to give Oaklawn Park a try and see how it goes,” Jeff Metz said. “The purses are great. The fans are very excited. The town loves racing. I just wanted to come and be a part of it and see how it goes.”
Metz said a push from Oaklawn racing coordinator Rick Hammerle didn’t hurt. Hammerle was a longtime racing secretary at Santa Anita.
“We have an overlap from Santa Anita,” Metz said. “So, I know him from California. I talked to him and he said, ‘Yeah, come on out. You like to run. You run horses.’ So, we had a few come from California and a few from Kentucky and we met in the middle here at Oaklawn.”
Metz said he began the Oaklawn meeting with six horses and would be “looking to claim some.” Oaklawn opened its scheduled 66-day live season Dec. 3.
A northern California native, Metz saddled his first career starter in 1991 and is a four-time leading trainer at Emerald Downs near Seattle. He ranked among the country’s top 70 trainers in victories in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018. Metz said he’s not shy at the entry box and “probably” runs two or three a day at Turf Paradise.
“Obviously, the numbers, we have are far more there,” Metz said. “But I’m a guy that doesn’t mind running back in a couple of weeks. I don’t need four or five weeks to get them perfect.”
Metz said his parents owned horses and he began working as an exercise rider at 16 in northern California before migrating to Santa Anita at 21. Metz, who worked under two Southern California training stalwarts, the late Bruce Headley and now-retired Dan Hendricks, entered Friday with 813 career victories, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. Metz’s first two Oaklawn starters, Wicked Street and Fiery Lady, ran sixth and ninth, respectively Jan. 9. The trainer’s third scheduled starter, Rollin N the Money, is entered in Sunday’s second race.
“It’s a trial run to see how it goes,” Metz said. “I have a couple of clients in the Hot Springs and Dallas area. So, those are kind of the nucleus of bringing horses here, and then a couple of other partners I have from California and Washington that want to join in the claiming game. We’re just going to see. The purses are so good.”
In addition to his daughter, Metz’s wife, Jennifer, records morning workouts as a tab writer at Santa Anita and operates TVG’s starting gate camera in the afternoons there. Son Josh is an exercise rider and galloped 2021 Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who is based at Santa Anita.
Jeff Metz resides in San Dimas, Calif., about 15 minutes east of Santa Anita.
Oaklawn Press Release
Photo: Mucho (Coady Photo)