Disappointment is part and parcel of The Sports of Kings. For horsemen and bettors alike, there is more losing than winning. Percentages will see to that. As LeRoy Jolley once said, “This game wasn’t cut out for anybody wearing short pants.”
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire
The elite are no exception, so when Game On Dude finished fifth as the odds-on favorite in the San Antonio Stakes on Feb. 8, Bob Baffert was disappointed. But the Hall of Fame trainer and the winner of 15 of his 30 career races and earner of $5,713,893 get right back in the pool on Saturday in the Santa Anita Handicap presented by San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino, which Game On Dude will be trying to win for a record third time.
The 7-year-old Awesome Again gelding, whose front-running style cost him in the San Antonio when he got cooked in a pace duel with committed front-runner Blueskiesnrainbows, should have a more favorable pace scenario in the Big ’Cap. On paper, he looks like the speed of what speed there is.
“Yeah, he’s got to go,” Baffert said when asked about strategy. “Dude, you can’t take him back. You’ve got to let him run. If it works out for him, it works out. If not, it doesn’t.”
Simple enough. But the fact is Big ’Cap rivals Mucho Macho Man and Will Take Charge have defeated Game On Dude the three times they’ve met. However, Game On Dude has a more favorable pace scenario Saturday.
On paper, at least.
“Game On Dude’s not the type of horse that’s looking to go out there and run in 24 or 49 (for a quarter mile and a half mile, respectively),” said Mike Smith, who has ridden the gelding in eight of his last nine races, winning five.
“He runs numbers. He’s got a high cruising speed and I let him do his thing. He’s just got to run his race. He’s just got to show up tomorrow. If he doesn’t, I can go as slow as I want to go or as fast as I want to go, if he doesn’t show up, it doesn’t really matter.
“He’s got to show up, and if he does that, I think he’ll have just as good a chance as any of them.”
The field for the Santa Anita Handicap, race nine of 11 on a card that starts at 12 noon: Will Take Charge, Luis Saez, 2-1; Mucho Macho Man, Gary Stevens, 9-5; Blingo, Aaron Gryder, 8-1; Imperative, Kent Desormeaux, 12-1; Rousing Sermon, Rafael Bejarano, 12-1; American Blend, Joe Talamo, 20-1; Game On Dude, Mike Smith, 5-2; and Hear The Ghost, Joel Rosario, 20-1.
In other Big ’Cap news:
D. Wayne Lukas was a welcome sight Friday morning back at The Great Race Place where the Hall of Fame trainer has registered many of his significant victories, which he will try to increase Saturday when he sends out Will Take Charge in the Big ’Cap, a race he won in 1991 with Farma Way.
“He’s had a really good two, three months this winter,” Lukas said of Will Take Charge. “He shipped in beautifully and he looks tremendous. I’m very happy with him. Oh, gosh. What a bonanza for the track (to have a race with stars of this magnitude).”
Will Take Charge will break from the inside post position in the Santa Anita Handicap. Jon White, Santa Anita’s oddsmaker, points out that the inside post position has produced just two winners of the race.
“Mr. Right in 1968 and Malek in 1998 are the only two to have ever won the Santa Anita Handicap from the inside post position,” White noted. “And keep in mind only four horses ran in the Big ’Cap the year Malek won it. You sure wouldn’t think that with such a long, straight run before they get to the first turn that there would be just two out of 76 Big ’Cap winners from the inside post.
“But for whatever reason, that’s the case. Ron the Greek won the Big ’Cap in 2012 from post three, then drew the inside post in last year’s Big ’Cap and finished fourth. It will be interesting to see if Will Take Charge can become just the third Big ’Cap winner from post position No. 1.”
Retired jockey Richard Migliore, winner of Santa Anita’s George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in 2008, is a member of “The Jockey Club Series on Fox” team which is broadcasting the Santa Anita Handicap.
“This opportunity wouldn’t have come along if it weren’t for HRTV giving me the initial chance,” said Migliore, who earned his on-air spurs with HRTV. “For that, I’m forever grateful and happy that I’m still working in some capacity for HRTV with ‘Pursuit of the Crown’ and covering the Triple Crown and the Breeders’ Cup.
“I’m thrilled. I love the Santa Anita Handicap; I love Santa Anita. The history of this race is something that captured my attention when I was 10 years old. So the fact that here I am, almost 40 years later and still involved in it, even if I can’t ride in it, is a great thing.”