Photo: Eclipse Sportswire - Alex Evers
Game On Dude’s best days are behind him, huh? Not so fast my friends. Showing all the speed and staying power that he did when at his very best, the seven-year-old gelding threw it back in the face to all those who said he was done, with a dominating, front running score in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap. In so doing, the Bob Baffert trained star became the first horse in the history of the storied race to win it three times.
Going in, today’s $750,000 Big Cap was heralded as the most highly anticipated edition of the race since Alysheba and Ferdinand thrilled the fans 26 years ago. It was billed as a rematch of a classic race that happened four months ago at Santa Anita. That evening in early November, Game On Dude could only watch as he fell farther and farther behind Mucho Macho Man, who held on in the $5-million Breeders' Cup Classic by a dwindling nose over Will Take Charge. The three came back again for a rematch on Saturday, and this time the results were decidedly different.
Breaking from the seven-hole under regular rider, Mike Smith, Game On Dude went right to the lead as he eased on over to the rail before hitting the first turn. Meanwhile, the two favorites, Mucho Macho Man and Will Take Charge settled into comfortable stalking positions in third and fourth, as Hear the Ghost chased the leader from the outside. Game On Dude was where he wanted to be, especially after Hear the Ghost went a bit wide, leaving the 7-2 third choice with a one-length lead on the turn. The early fractions were anything but slow, though.
Zipping through the first half mile in :45.39 , Game On Dude inched clear as Mucho Macho Man and Will Take Charge kept each other company, approximately three lengths behind midway through the backstretch. Nearing the far turn, the pair made their move to test the leader, but Mike Smith let out a notch on the turn, and it quickly became clear that Mucho Macho Man did not have the horse today to challenge Game On Dude. That left only Will Take Charge to try to run down the talented gelding.
Straightening for home, Game On Dude spurted clear as his closest competitor went a bit wide. Will Take Charge kept trying throughout the stretch, but no one was going to beat Game On Dude on this big day.
In defeat, Will Take Charge ran a game race to be 1 3/4 lengths behind the winner at the finish. Blingo rallied late to grab a non-threatening third over Mucho Macho Man, who did not have his best today, and finished more than ten lengths behind. Closer to the early pace than he has been in the past, Will Take Charge simply did not have enough down the lane, as Game On Dude skipped over the fast track in record time. The clock was stopped after the ten furlongs in an outstanding 1:58.17, making it the fastest Big Cap in history.
The victory in the historic grade 1 race, gives Game On Dude, owned by a partnership which includes Joe Torre, his 16th win in a marvelous career that has now spanned 31 races. It also re-announces him as one of the finest horses in American racing, just in case anyone had forgotten.