Photo: Terri Cage Photography
What does it take for a horse to earn respect in the Thoroughbred racing
industry? Does it take an Eclipse Award? A Breeders’ Cup triumph? Perhaps a
grade one win on the East Coast?
Game On Dude has accomplished none of
the above, but that certainly does not mean he’s not one of the best horses in
training. Though the six-year-old gelding does not always receive the great
respect he deserves, he is abundantly admired and adored. Having raced at nine
different tracks since his career began in January of 2010, Game On Dude has
been hard to ignore, contesting in twenty-four graded stakes throughout his
career, which has spanned twenty-seven starts to date.
The son of Awesome Again began his career on the East Coast as a three-year-old
and after a lackluster finish in the Florida Derby (gr. I) in his third
lifetime start, Game On Dude acquired new owners and was transferred to the
barn of Bob Baffert. The gelding gradually began to
prosper, easily winning the Lone Star Derby (gr. III) in his second start for
Baffert prior to running fourth in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) behind Drosselmeyer.
An ankle issue sidelined Game On Dude, but he returned strong as a
four-year-old, prepared to unveil the brilliance he had been hiding. In his
initial start as a four-year-old, Game On Dude impressively won an allowance
optional claiming event at Santa Anita, which served as a prep for the 2011
Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I).
In a breakthrough performance, Game On Dude prevailed in the Big ‘Cap, but not
without controversy. After a twelve-minute stewards’ inquiry, the gelding’s
nose victory endured, granting the blossoming Thoroughbred with his first grade
one win. Little did the racing world know at the time, a mascot for the sport
of horse racing had made his mark on the racing scene.
Game On Dude would become a fan favorite, competing in six additional graded
stakes events in 2011. After his second grade one victory, which came in the
Goodwood Stakes (gr. I), Game On Dude finished a valiant second to Drosselmeyer
in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) at Churchill Downs, further proving
himself to be a top-class athlete.
Pointed towards the richest race in the world, Game On Dude trounced his rivals
in the San Antonio Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita in preparation for the Dubai
World Cup (gr. I) at Meydan Racecourse. But an eventful trip to Dubai, during
which Baffert suffered a heart attack, resulted in a race through which a line
can be drawn.
Two months after his twelfth-place finish in Dubai, Game On Dude returned with
resolve, capturing the Californian Stakes (gr. II) at Hollywood Park in a romp.
The gelding followed up that score with a win in the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr.
I), earning his third grade one victory of his career.
Despite a narrow loss in the Pacific Classic Stakes (gr. I), Game On Dude
remained an icon in the racing world, particularly in California. In his final
prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, which would be held at his home track of
Santa Anita, Game On Dude easily captured the Awesome Again Stakes (gr. I), a
race he had won the previous year before it had been renamed after his sire.
Game On Dude was made the heavy favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but it
was simply not meant to be. Tarnishing his perfect record at Santa Anita, Game
On Dude was never himself in North America’s richest race, finishing a puzzling
seventh. But he ended 2012 on a good note, returning to his element in the
Native Diver Stakes (gr. III) at Hollywood Park. With Hall of Fame jockey Mike
Smith aboard for the first time, the gelding cruised to victory.
It was clear Game On Dude had returned to his winning ways. He began 2013 with
a dominant triumph in the San Antonio, earning his second consecutive win in
that race. Avoiding Dubai and instead aiming for his second Big ‘Cap victory, Game
On Dude encountered eight rivals in the historic contest, including the
defending winner Ron the Greek.
There was no need for controversy this time around. Given an easy lead
throughout, the six-year-old led from start to finish, coasting to an
impressive 7 ¾-length victory that left no doubt as to whom the winner was.
Game On Dude has won his three subsequent starts, including his second victory
in the Hollywood Gold Cup and, at last, his first triumph in the Pacific
Classic. The latter is perhaps his most impressive race yet. The richest race
run annually in California, the Pacific Classic had always eluded Game On Dude.
But in the sweetest fashion, Game On Dude proved that the third time is the
charm, running away with the Pacific Classic to capture it by 8 ½ lengths – the
largest winning margin the race has ever seen. In doing so, Game On Dude joined
another popular California-based gelding – Lava Man – as one of just two horses to win each of
California’s premier handicap races: the Santa Anita Handicap, the Hollywood
Gold Cup, and the Pacific Classic.
It is easy to believe that Game On Dude is getting better with age. He has not
lost a race as a six-year-old, capturing each of his five starts in 2013 by a
combined 24 ¼ lengths. Is this finally the year the veteran will take home an
Eclipse Award? Only time will tell, but if this fan favorite can maintain his
growing brilliance, he just may finally be bestowed one of those coveted
trophies – perhaps even the gold one.