Winning more than $3.1 million in two races took so much out of Mucho Gusto that Bob Baffert, his trainer, decided Mucho Gusto needed mucho time off.

Mucho Gusto Returns
Running seven races, Mucho Gusto enjoyed a busy 3-year-old season. But Saturday’s San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita marks only his third race of 2020. (Image: Benoit Photo)

Now, vacation time is over for the reigning Pegasus World Cup Invitational champion, who returns Saturday for his first race since February. After his 10-month competitive-free sojourn, Mucho Gusto gets back into the fray in Saturday’s Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita Park. The 1 1/16-mile race for older horses is one of five graded stakes on Santa Anita’s opening-day card.

If you’re only going to run twice over nearly a year, you might as well make it count. And make it count, Mucho Gusto did. He won the $2.9 million Pegasus World Cup in January, romping to a 4 ½-length victory. That earned him a 107 Beyer Speed Figure and his connections, starting with owner Prince Faisal Bin Khaled, a cool $1.6 million.

It also earned Mucho Gusto a spot in the world’s richest race – the $20 million Saudi Cup. That was the Prince’s goal all along and the reason he bought Mucho Gusto in 2019. Prince Bin Khaled wanted Mucho Gusto in the gate for the Saudi Cup and the $12 million Dubai World Cup.

Saudi Cup? Check. Dubai World Cup? Try Again

He got half his wish. Mucho Gusto finished a strong fourth in the Saudi Cup, 2 ¼ lengths behind winner Maximum Security. That brought in a tidy $1.5 million and Mucho Gusto’s 2020 haul to more than $3.1 million. And the calendar hadn’t flipped to March yet.

When it did, the world stopped, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That scrubbed the Dubai World Cup. Mucho Gusto returned to the US and Baffert noticed how much the trip took out of him. So he gave the son of 2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Mucho Macho Man four months off.

Baffert returned Mucho Gusto to the track in the summer and he’s slowly responded with faster and faster workouts. This past Sunday, Mucho Gusto clocked a bullet 1:12.80 for six furlongs. Whether that is a outlier or a predictor of what will come Saturday, Baffert is using the San Antonio as a prep for either the Pegasus and Saudi Cup or just the Saudi Cup.

Mucho Gusto Faces Mucho Conditioning Questions

Yes, the San Antonio is “only” a $200,000 race: mere Monopoly money to a Saudi prince. And yes, Mucho Gusto’s conditioning will be an issue. Especially against more recent battle-tested horses such as Sharp Samurai and the top three from the Native Diver Stakes at Del Mar: Extra Hope, Midcourt and Combatant.

Last out, Sharp Samurai finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. Despite clocking 102 or better Beyer Speed Figures his last three starts, the 6-year-old gelding is 0-for-his-last-9 races.

But even with those rivals, Mucho Gusto’s royal connections and Hall of Fame trainer have mucho bigger game ahead.