With yesterday’s big win for Game On Dude as further proof, in which he broke slow, rushed up into fast fractions, took command in 1:09 flat, before rolling home the easiest kind of winner in 1:46.88, it is clear that he is on the short list of the best horses in America, if not the very best. For all fans of Game On Dude and his popular rider, Chantal Sutherland, this is music to their ears, but for another reason, I find his excellence to be most intriguing. You see Game On Dude is a gelding. He will never be rushed off to the breeding shed, therefore if all goes well, yesterday’s romping winner of the San Antonio is a horse racefans can enjoy for years to come. And since most of us have been disappointed by having some of our favorites leave the sport way too soon because of the lure of breeding dollars, this is a nice thought to be sure. It’s also one that got me thinking of where Game On Dude rates against some of the best geldings of recent years.
In fact, I started a new poll (right) asking voters, “Game On Dude is the best gelding since…” If not all of the best recent American geldings, and their accomplishments, are fresh in your mind, I have compiled career highlights for this bunch that may have had shortcomings in the ways of love, but certainly not on the racetrack:
2007 – Game On Dude – (15-6-4-1 / $2,254,658) After showing flashes of strong ability at three, Game On Dude became one of the best horses in the country at four, narrowly missing out on the Eclipse Award as Champion Older Male. Wins in the Santa Anita Handicap and Goodwood, as well as, a runner-up performance in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, were highlights of last year.
2006 – Mine That Bird – (18-5-2-1 / $2,011,581) Despite being a multiple stakes winner in Canada at two, Mine That Bird shocked the world with a runaway victory in the 2009 Kentucky Derby. Solid but losing performances in the Preakness and Belmont followed, but after that he was never able to duplicate his best form.
2003 – Well Armed – (24-7-3-1 / $5,179,803) Far from the most consistent horse on this list, Well Armed originally raced in England before becoming a top handicap horse on the West Coast. Plagued by injuries, he was able to run the race of his life in the richest, winning the 2009 Dubai World Cup by 14 lengths.
2001 – Commentator – (24-14-1-4 / $2,029,845) The first New York-bred on this list, Commentator had speed to be feared over a career that spanned six seasons. Injuries kept him from running more, but when healthy, he was one of America’s finest horses from six to nine furlongs for several years.
2001 – Lava Man – (47-17-8-5 / $5,268,706) Seeming to come from nowhere, this former claimer went on to reach great heights that saw him become one of California’s all-time favorite horses. Among his long list of accomplishments include three consecutive wins in the prestigious Hollywood Gold Cup.
2000 – Funny Cide – (38-11-6-8 / $3,529,412) Undefeated at two, this popular New York-bred was never better than when he won the Derby and Preakness, before finishing a solid 3rd in the Belmont. His career after the Triple Crown was a bit spotty, but he counts the 2004 Jockey Club Gold Cup among his many stakes wins.
1999 – Better Talk Now – (51-14-8-5 / $4,356,664) Purchased for the bargain basement price of $10,500 as a weanling, he kept improving, after his transition to turf, to become one of America’s best grass horses with graded stakes wins in five consecutive years, including the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Turf.
1999 – Perfect Drift – (50-11-14-7 / $4,714,213) He may not have been the most consistent winner on this list, but the 3rd place finisher in the 2002 Kentucky Derby was good long enough to be the only horse to run in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in five straight years.
1994 – Kona Gold – (30-14-7-2 / $2,293,384) Speaking of longevity, how about the Champion Sprinter of 2000, Kona Gold, who was able not only to run in, but run competitively in five consecutive editions of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, including a victory in 2000.
1992– Da Hoss – (20-12-5-2 / $1,931,558) Super quick as a juvenile debuting in Arizona, Da Hoss was as consistent as they come … just check out the record. His claim to fame was winning consecutive editions of the Breeders’ Cup Mile, the second coming soon after nearly two years off.
1990 – Prairie Bayou – (12-7-3-0 / $1,450,621) This one may never have been able to prove his ultimate greatness because of tragedy in the Belmont, but his 5 stakes wins at three, including the Preakness was plenty for him to be named Champion three-year-old of 1993.
1988 – Best Pal – (47-18-11-4 / $5,668,245) This Hall of Famer was a special kind of gelding in that he was topnotch as a juvenile, dominating the California two-year-old scene. 2nd in the next spring’s Kentucky Derby, the California-bred great would go on to major wins in 6 straight years.
1982– Creme Fraiche – (64-17-12-13 / $4,024,727) He may never have been considered the best horse of his era, but he was tough as they come at 12 furlongs, highlighted by winning the Belmont and two editions of the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
1975 – John Henry – (83-39-15-9 / $6,591,860) The gold standard for geldings of the last 30 years, John Henry was a two-time Horse of the Year, and four-time Turf Champion in the early eighties. Demonstrating his remarkable durability, he won each of those awards at the age of 9.
There you have it, America’s best geldings of recent years. Now before you tell me that I forgot Exterminator, Phar Lap, Kelso, Native Diver, Forego, etc … remember, what I am asking here is who is the last gelding better than Game On Dude. Clearly John Henry ends the discussion, as any rational person should not say Game On Dude is in the same rarified air as that great, but in looking at all the outstanding geldings since John Henry, at least a case can be made that Game On Dude is approaching them in stature. How far can he go? A second consecutive win in next month’s Santa Anita Handicap would be a great start.