As many of us predicted, the Hollywood Gold Cup gave the Handicap division a much needed leader, even though it was not the one most of us were expecting. Twirling Candy, the 11/10 favorite was expected to make a splash and take command of the muddled division, especially after winning the Grade Two Californian in his last start. He was the only horse on dirt or synthetic to have repeat stakes wins this year and was looking like he was ready seize control, but when the gates opened and the field turned for home it was not Twirling Candy running them all down, it was First Dude.
In 2010, First Dude seemed to be as shy as could be, never wanting to have his picture taken in the winner’s circle. Was it because of his figure? We will never know. However, the son of Stephen Got Even went on an impressive spree of places in the top three year old races in the country, such as the Preakness, Belmont, Haskell Invitation, and Travers. You name and he was there, but just never quite getting the win. Everyone claimed that as a four year old he would finally break out of his shell and become a brute on the track, but in his first two starts of the season the colt didn’t even break the top three.
It was after the Sunshine Millions that owner Donald Dizney decided to shake things up, sending First Dude out west to be under the care of Bob Baffert. At first it didn’t seem like the change did any good at all as First Dude faded to finish sixth in the Santa Anita Handicap. After that poor performance Baffert decided to do some shaking up of his own, converting the speedy frontrunner into a patient closer. The change proved to be the key and it saw First Dude return to the winner’s circle not once, but two times in as many tries, before the Gold Cup.
After achieving his graded stakes victory in the Alysheba, Baffert brought the colt back out west to tackle one of the toughest fields the division has seen this season. At the top of the stretch the race was between Game on Dude and Twirling Candy… that was until Martin Garcia got that giant motor of First Dude’s to kick in. Once in gear First Dude began to eat away at the distance with those gargantuan strides and nailed his stablemate right on the wire.
The victory not only gave First Dude his elusive first Grade one victory, but vaulted him to the top of the division. He has now become the only other horse to win two graded stakes in his division, and the only to do so consecutively this year. The fact that he owns a win over the Churchill Downs dirt and over the Classic distance makes him the horse with the least amount of questions to answer going to the Classic. The Dude has finally stepped it up. It may have taken him longer than anticipated, but now that he has he stands the biggest chance at become the Handicap star the division so desperately needs.