It’s no wonder that Game On Dude has been installed as the 4-5 favorite against six challengers in Saturday night’s $1.5 million Charles Town Classic. Now seven, and fresh off a record third win in the historic Santa Anita Handicap, the grand gelding appears to be as good as ever. Besides the three Big Cap victories, Game On Dude has also collected five more Grade 1 wins, and six other graded stakes scores. In all, he has earned more than six million dollars, while winning 16 of 31 lifetime. He also happens to be the defending champion at Charles Town, having won the Grade 2 event last year. Game On Dude deserves all the accolades going into the rich affair, but another speed horse in here should not be overlooked.
With only two wins in 15 lifetime starts, it’s fair to say that Moreno falls a long way short of the accomplishments of Game On Dude. In fact, while the favorite was cashing a big check this time last year, Southern Equine Stable’s Moreno had accomplished next to nothing.
When he finished second in a maiden special weight at Santa Anita on April 13, it was his eighth consecutive loss to begin his career. He had run in a graded stakes race as a juvenile, but the son of Ghostzapper was truly going nowhere fast. The crooked legged gelding had nearly as many physical issues as he had defeats, and a turf attempt in his ninth start also would end in defeat.
All that losing would change when trainer Eric Guillot brought his charge to New York. A romping maiden win on Belmont Stakes weekend was followed by a just as easy score in the Grade 2 Dwyer at Belmont Park. Suddenly Moreno was healthy, and putting this racing thing all together.
A trip north for two races against the big boys in the Jim Dandy and Travers at Saratoga did nothing but increase the growing reputation of the speedy gelding that took so long to break his maiden. With his colorful trainer crowing alongside, Moreno ran a solid third to Palace Malice and Will Take Charge in the Jim Dandy, before coming one jump short of gamely carrying his speed all the way around in the Mid-Summer Derby. He did defeat Orb and Palace Malice that day, but lost on the wire to the eventual Eclipse Award winner, Will Take Charge.
Another solid effort, when second to the same winner in the Pennsylvania Derby proceeded a trip back out west for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He failed that day, but now a fresh and more mature Moreno should be ready to test Game On Dude from the opening bell.
After missing an expected start in last Saturday’s Oaklawn Handicap due to being off his feed a day in Arkansas, the gelding was re-routed to the tight turns of the West Virginia oval. Moreno will break from the #2 post, one spot to the inside of Mike Smith and Game On Dude, and reigning Kentucky Derby winning rider, Joel Rosario will be in the saddle on the 3-1 morning line second choice.
Co-third choices at 6-1 on the morning line, are Long River and Clubhouse Ride. The former exits a sharp second place finish in Aqueduct’s Excelsior for the powerhouse Godolphin Stable. Before that, the four-year-old son of A.P. Indy had won three straight. Clubhouse Ride, on the other hand, comes east to attempt to do one better than his fine second place finish in this race last year. No stranger to Game On Dude, the six-year-old Candy Ride horse finished second to the Dude in three consecutive stakes races last year culminating with the West Virginia effort. Clubhouse Ride comes in off a pair of third place finishes in the San Carlos and Santana Mile.
Adding a little local color to the Classic will be Lucy's Bob Boy. Unknown to most on a national level, the 5-year-old West Virginia-bred sports a sparkling lifetime record of 21-17-3-0 at Charles Town. While the home track advantage will be all his, obviously that record was compiled against a different class of race horse then he will see on Saturday night.
The sixth running of the Charles Town Classic will be rounded out by a pair of 20-1 chances in Imperative, most recently seventh in the Santa Anita Handicap, and Ruler of Love, the runner-up in last year’s West Virginia Derby.
The richest race in the country outside of the Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup will be televised by HRTV, with a post time scheduled for 10:30 p.m.