It may not have had the sizzle of his romp in the Santa Anita Handicap, but Game On Dude proved tonight at Charles Town Races that he could take his winning game on the road with a workmanlike victory in the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic. The victory may have been workmanlike, but the purse of $1.5 million certainly was not, as the West Virginia oval put up one of the largest purses in America to attract the likes of Game On Dude.
The sizable purse succeeded in drawing a small but select field, and the stars of the race would not disappoint in giving the fans an exciting show. Sent off as the prohibitive 3-10 favorite in the field of six, Game On Dude and his Hall of Fame pilot, Mike Smith, were content to track a slow early pace set by long shot, Percussion. It appeared like the Dude could take over whenever he wanted, and sure enough he did just that approaching the quarter pole. By that time, though, a familiar foe, Clubhouse Ride was putting in a menacing move on the outside, and Ron the Greek was making up a lot of ground from his early trailing position. As the field came careening out of the third, and final turn, it looked like the big favorite was in danger, but the Dude dug down and gamely held off his challengers by one-half length at the wire.
The victory was a bit of West Virginia avengement for Game On Dude. Two years ago, he finished second in a muddy Charles Town Classic to Duke of Mischief. Back then he was 5-1, and not yet a true star. This time he came back as the headliner of the race, and returned a conquering hero, snaring the one-million dollar winner’s share.
Game On Dude carried top weight of 123 pounds, spotting his rivals five to seven pounds, and completed the nine furlongs over the fast, but not glib racing surface, in 1:52.27. The Classic win was his fourth consecutive stakes victory since disappointing as the favorite in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Clubhouse Ride, who has now finished second in his last five starts is making quite a nice living playing bridesmaid to Game On Dude. In both the San Antonio Stakes and the Santa Anita Handicap, he finished a well-beaten runner-up to the Dude, but tonight was able to put a much bigger scare into the heavy favorite. Making a sharp move on the final turn, Clubhouse Ride could not run down Game On Dude for the third straight time, but ran a big race to hold off a strong late run by the second choice, Ron the Greek, for the place by a nose. Trained by Bob Baffert, Game On Dude is owned Bernie Schiappa, Mercedes Stable, the Lanni Family Trust, and Joe Torre. A six-year-old gelding by Awesome Again, Game On Dude has won 13 of 25 lifetime starts and now stands less than $300,000 away from the magical $5 million dollars in career earnings. Tonight in West Virginia, it was a case of the rich getting richer. The Dude abides.