After the mile and a quarter classic
journey of the $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup (Grade I), Bob Baffert knew one of
his two ‘Dudes was the winner. The photo revealed that 4-to-1 second choice First
Dude had rallied from off the pace to the outside under Martin Garcia to nip front-running
barn mate and 9-to-2 third choice Game On Dude and Chantal Sutherland by a nose.
“When they hit the wire, I knew I had won
it, I just didn’t know which one. I was hoping for a dead heat,” said Baffert,
who captured his third Gold Cup victory just a day after burying his
88-year-old mother Ellie after a long battle with cancer. “She loved watching the
races and it kept her going and made her live longer. She would feel worse for
me after a loss; here she is hooked up with all kinds of stuff. She was a
mother until the very end.”
A four-year-old son of Stephen Got Even,
this was First Dude’s fourth start for Baffert since transferring from East
Coast trainer Dale Romans. He primarily ran on or close to the lead while
earning just one win through his first 14 career starts, but has now won three
straight from off the pace since fading after being involved early in the Santa
Anita Handicap (Grade I) in his first start for the silver-haired wizard.
“First Dude is a big ‘ol horse that you
just gotta let him settle and ride him with a lot of confidence, which is what
Martin did,” said Baffert, whose colt surpassed $1.4 million in career earnings
while securing an automatic bid to the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic along
with the $150,000 entry fee to the biggest race in North America. “The first
time we ran him in the Santa Anita Handicap, we sent him out there and he was
done at the 3/8 pole. He does not want to be ridden that way, so we worked him
one morning and he broke off behind a worker and finished up well with Martin
and we realized that’s what he wants to do.”
Off second and third place finishes in Grade III's outside of Southern California on the heels of a controversial Big ‘Cap victory that made Sutherland the first female jockey to
capture Santa Anita’s most prestigious race, Game On Dude was reunited with Sutherland for the first time since, making her the first female jockey to have a mount in the Gold Cup.
“I gotta give a lot to Chantal. She really
rode a great race and picked that horse up and carried him. He got a second
wind there and was on the lead the way he wants to run. Last time we grabbed
him and took him back; he didn’t like that,” said a redeemed Baffert after watching
all three horses he sent to Calder for the Summit of Speed go down to defeat as
well as his three-year-old colt Coil finishing second in the $150,000 Swaps
Stakes (Grade II) earlier in the day at Hollywood Park.
Even-money favorite Twirling Candy finished
a neck back in third, bracketed by both ‘Dudes at the finish line after sitting the
perfect trip just behind Game On Dude throughout.
After the race, trainer John Sadler was
critical of the fact that Twirling Candy was forced to carry 122 pounds, six more than First Dude and four more than Game On Dude. Sadler’s
four-year-old son of Candy Ride has now failed in all three attempts in Grade I
races going two turns, but pushed his earnings over $700,000 with seven wins to
his credit from ten career starts.
Setsuko rounded out the superfecta as the
6-to-1 fourth choice and has now won just once in 14 career starts, while
defending Gold Cup champion Awesome Gem settled for fifth at 12-to-1.
Baffert said that his ‘Dudes would ship to
Del Mar to test their affinity for the Polytrack ahead of the $1 million
Pacific Classic on August 28.
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