Photo: Eclipse Sportswire - Alex Evers
Glib, flippant, aloof, unaffected. Those are the kinds of adjectives
that permeate Bob Baffert’s public persona, but beneath that visible
veneer lies a warm and beating--albeit resuscitated--heart and a caring
That was evident in the winner’s circle Saturday after Game On
Dude made history by becoming the first horse in 77 runnings of the
storied Santa Anita Handicap to win the race three times, defeating
heralded heavyweights Mucho Macho Man and Will Take Charge in the
Game On Dude paid an uncharacteristic $9.60 to win, having been
favored in his last 14 U.S. starts, seven times at odds-on. One could
almost detect a tear in Baffert’s eyes as he discussed the front-running
victory, covered in 1:58.17 for a mile and a quarter, a stakes record,
eclipsing Affirmed’s 1:58 3/5.
The message seemed clear: Don’t ‘diss’ my horse.
“To me, it’s an emotional win for the horse,” Baffert said of
the 7-year-old gelding, who earned $450,000 to push his career bankroll
to $6,163,893. “It kills me when they knock on him, but we came in quiet
and that’s the way I like it. We came in under the radar and we were
ready for them.”
Added Mike Smith, who piloted the son of Awesome Again to his
16th win from 31 career starts: “Bob’s proud of Game On Dude. He’s like
family to him. When you knock him, you’re walking on the fightin’ side
of Bob, I guess, like it says in the old country song that Merle Haggard
used to sing.
“That’s kind of what happened. It kind of struck a nerve a
little, and it was fabulous that the horse was able to show that he not
only can compete, but beat those kinds of horses.
“He needed to run like that to beat them. When you’re dealing
with that kind of talent, if you’re off your game just a half a step,
these horses will beat each other.
“So you’ve got to be really ‘on’ to compete with horses of that quality.
Game On Dude was that and a little more yesterday.”
Trainer Kathy Ritvo reported that Mucho Macho Man came out of
his fourth-place finish in the Big ’Cap “good” and will look at options
this week for his next race. Mucho Macho Man ships back to Florida on