A review of the top TimeformUS speed figures for the 2013 racing season indicates one dominant main track performer and one dominant turf performer.
The seven-year-old gelding Game On Dude owns the three highest speed figures of this season. Meanwhile, fellow seven-year-old gelding Wise Dan owns five of the eight highest speed figures run on a turf surface this year. Both of these extremely talented geldings have very impressive career resumes.
Indeed, the Equibase database goes back to 1991, and since that time, there are only ten male horses with ten or more career North American Graded Stakes wins:
Skip Away 16
Wise Dan 15
Game On Dude 13
Silver Charm 10
Kona Gold 10
Gio Ponti 10
Sir Bear 10
Wise Dan is the reigning Horse of the Year of 2012 and the presumptive Horse of the Year of 2013. Game On Dude, meanwhile, lacks so much as a single Eclipse Award in any divisional category. However, as we profile the five highest speed figures of 2013, it is Game On Dude who reigned supreme in that department this past season. Also worth noting: Four of these five performances were turned in by frontrunners in two-turn main-track races. As TimeformUS speed figures account for pace, you can rest assured that great care was taken to not overrate these performances, but they reinforce the notion that at the very top, it's what American horses still do best--deliver dazzling performances if allowed to control the pace early.
#1 Game On Dude (132 Speed Figure in the Santa Anita Handicap): In a vintage Game On Dude performance, he faced no quality pace pressure and utterly demolished the Big Cap field by a race record 7.75 length margin of victory as the 125-pound highweight in the field. Eventual second-place finisher Clubhouse Ride was the beneficiary of a ten pound break in weights. He returned to finish second beaten just a half length in the $1,500,000 Charles Town Classic in his next start, before winning the Grade 2 Californian at Betfair Hollywood Park.
Former Big Cap winner Ron The Greek was next in the scales at 122 pounds. He was exiting a gigantic victory in the Sunshine Millions, where he won by more than 11 lengths. However, it was a race in which his main competitor, Mucho Macho Man, was virtually eased. Ron The Greek was campaigned exceptionally hard and traveled all over, but his season was disappointing until he gave a shocking reminder of how capable he is on his day: when delivering an almost seven length victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, with Palace Malice and Flat Out finishing second and third.
#2 Game On Dude (130 speed figure in the Pacific Classic): This race had plenty of controversy in regard to the final time. However, there wasn't the slightest doubt about who was best. In another example of what Game On Dude is capable of when allowed a loose lead, he drilled his eleven other opponents in the Pacific Classic by a race-record 8.5 lengths. Del Mar's most important race was turned into an absolute mockery by Game On Dude.
#3 Game On Dude (129 speed figure in the Hollywood Gold Cup): Once again, Game On Dude was allowed an uncontested early lead. Under a lofty 127 pound weight impost, he got the job done in the final edition of Hollywood Park's most storied race, the Hollywood Gold Cup. Even though his great form would deteriorate in his final two starts of 2013, it should be noted he was unable to secure his optimal trip, free running on a loose early lead, in either the Breeders' Cup Classic or Clark Handicap.
#4. Fort Larned (129 speed figure in the Stephen Foster): Here's a fascinating statistic for you: Fort Larned has led at the first call only four times in his entire racing career.
The first time he ever did was the 2012 Cornhusker Handicap, and he crushed Successful Dan by three lengths at 7/2 odds. The second time Fort Larned ever led at the first call of a race came in the 2012 Breeders' Cup Classic, where he gamely defeated Mucho Macho Man at 9/1 odds (and it was a long way back to the third-place finisher).
The third time Fort Larned ever led after the first call was the aforementioned 2013 Stephen Foster Handicap, and he responded with a dazzling win by more than 6 lengths in 1:47 2/5. Moreover, he crushed some good horses on this day. Ron The Greek was beaten more than 10 lengths. Successful Dan was beaten 15 lengths, and he came right back to finish an excellent second in the Whitney Handicap, beating Mucho Macho Man home, among other talented rivals.
Throughout his racing career, Fort Larned has made the early lead just four different times, and he was an impressive winner all four times. He's simply not the same caliber of performer when he is unable to make the early lead. If anyone has any doubts that Fort Larned enjoys a free-running front-end style performance, watch what happened in his return race this year, when jockey Brian Hernandez was tossed at the break. Fort Larned blasted off the television screen without his jockey aboard, one of the most memorable performances ever delivered by a riderless horse. Give Fort Larned the lead and he will torch you. He's just not the same horse when using stalking tactics.
#5. Flat Out (129 speed figure in the Westchester Handicap): Finally, we have a speed figure that was not earned by racing on an easy early lead! The hard-hitting eight-year-old Flat Out came from next to last and rallied to nail the front-running Cross Traffic in this edition of the Westchester. The distance of this race was a mile, and Flat Out would reaffirm his ability at the mile distance when he captured the Grade 1 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct later in the year.
Just in case you aren't already sick of us mentioning the value of a loose early lead, Westchester second-place finisher Cross Traffic won his two-turn stakes debut in the Whitney Handicap with a loose early lead. His 128 speed figure just missed the cutoff. That's a big feather in the cap of old Flat Out--delivering the highest speed figure of the year by any horse who didn't establish an early lead.