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Game On Dude tops first NTRA Poll of the season

Game On Dude Big Cap14 615 X 400
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire - Alex Evers
The NTRA Polls are back in session, and with 9 1/2 weeks of racing action already in the books, there were plenty of performances to choose from in determining the Top 10 Active Thoroughbreds. Even those that have not yet faced the starter in 2014 but have been working towards a return as well as those retired in the calendar year were eligible to receive votes. With a spectacular, "my saddle towel has not been put away yet" performance by Game On Dude in this year's Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap, it's not hard to guess who topped my list (and the NTRA list), but who filled out spots 2-10? Read on!
 
 
1.
 Game On Dude—In case anyone was wondering, Game On Dude’s best days are not in fact behind him. Proving that he still deserves to be atop the Older Male division despite a string of losses, Game On Dude utilized both his tactical advantage and his love for the Santa Anita strip, to take it to his competition right from the break in the Big Cap. Going straight to the front with a confident Mike Smith aboard, the popular gelding clicked off blazing fractions, and rather than back pedal in the stretch, he just kept right on going…and going…and going…much like the Energizer Bunny. He stopped the clock in a stakes record time of 1:58.17, just a tick off the track record. Folks at the race were given a real treat as Smith paraded Game On Dude before his adoring audience prior to heading to the winner’s circle.
 
 
2.
 Will Take Charge—Despite not having a win in 2014 yet, Will Take Charge has given a good accounting of himself in his first two starts. Facing unfavorable pace scenarios, speed-favoring strips, short stretch runs and track and stakes record-setting winners, Will Take Charge nonetheless showed up and made his characteristic stretch charge both times. The end result was a 1 ½ length defeat at the hooves of Lea in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park and a 1 ¾ length defeat to annual top handicap runner Game On Dude in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap at Santa Anita Park. As HRN editor Brian Zipse pointed out in the latest edition of his weekly column From the Eighth Pole to the Wire, it is only a matter of time before the strapping 4-year old Unbridled’s Song colt catches more favorable conditions for his running style…and when he does, watch out!  
 

3.
 Wise Dan—The two time Horse of the Year has just recently gotten back to work, and without a start in 2014, I found it personally difficult to put the chestnut gelding at the top of the list, especially with others in his division already making cases for themselves. Training toward his 2014 debut at Keeneland, Wise Dan had his third breeze Sunday morning, working a half-mile in :48 and galloping out in a minute and change, as reported by DRF’s Marty McGee. I have little doubt that Wise Dan will go right back to his winning ways when he returns to the starting gate and anxiously await his 2014 bow.
 

4.
 Mucho Macho Man—Last year’s Breeder’s Cup Classic champion didn’t quite give the type of race fans were expecting in the Big Cap. Staying near Game On Dude throughout the race, he made a bid for the lead in the far turn but flattened out and faded to finish a non-threatening 4th, his first off the board finish at 10 furlongs. Off for 8 weeks since demolishing a grossly overmatched field in the Sunshine Millions Classic, it’s possible the big guy just needed to get a race under his belt. Regardless of the dull effort this past weekend, Mucho Macho Man is far from being anything less than a top player in a highly competitive Older Male division. 
 

5.
 Lea—Former turf runner Lea has found a new home on dirt in the early part of 2014. A smart score in the G3 Hal’s Hope at Gulfstream Park indicated an affinity for the surface, but a stakes and track record-setting performance over a deep field in the G1 Donn Handicap solidified the William Mott trainee as one to watch throughout the year. Whether or not he can take his winning ways on dirt on the road remains to be seen, but for now, Lea can at least boast that he beat highly regarded Will Take Charge. 
 

6.
 Winning Prize—While Wise Dan and Obviously are away, Winning Prize plays…and wins.  A perfect 2-for-2 for the year thus far, Winning Prize has accounted for both the G2 Arcadia and the G1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile, both run at 1 mile on the lawn. A Group 1 winner in Argentina, I knew Winning Prize could be a big player in the turf division here in the States. I selected him to upset Wise Dan in the 2013 renewal Shadwell Turf Mile, but when that race came off the turf, Winning Prize finished 4th, 5 lengths behind upset winner Silver Max. It has taken him a few races to really get his legs under him, so to speak, but now that he has, he’s showing up in a big way. He has a versatile running style, and if anyone can give the Big Two a run for the top prize money this year, it will be this son of Pure Prize.
 

7.
 Twilight Eclipse—When he’s on his “A Game,” Twilight Eclipse is a very dangerous contender running a route of ground on the turf. Best at 1 ½ mile, the gelding made his 2014 bow in the 1 3/8 mile G2 Mac Diarmida. Despite being a furlong shorter than what he would generally prefer, Twilight Eclipse got the job done by a length. With Point of Entry retired, the turf route division lacks a solid standout, and there are several that could step up and claim the top spot. For now, Twilight Eclipse is the only one that has made a start in 2014. Other top contenders Big Blue Kitten and Real Solution are currently targeting races in Dubai. Real Solution is being pointed toward the Dubai World Cup, and Big Blue Kitten is heading to the Sheema Classic where he will potentially face Twilight Eclipse as well as a host of international competitors.
 

8.
 Palace Malice—Off since finishing a troubled 6th in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Palace Malice made his return a winning one. Part of a quick early pace, Palace Malice looked beaten in the stretch before re-rallying to hold off closers Golden Ticket and Uncaptured by a head. The field he beat was a good one, and his final time of 1:33.80 was just a tick off the track record recently set by the returning Normandy Invasion. The fact that he won at a mile opens up more options for him other than the classic distance, traditional top races for the division. Whether at middle or classic distances, this gritty son of Curlin is going to have a say in stepping up into the big boy division. 
 

9.
 Pontchatrain—With Mizdirection retired, Pontchatrain is stepping up to take over as the Queen of the Downhill Turf. A perfect 2-for-2 for the year, Pontchatrain has won both the 6.5 furlong G2 Monrovia on the downhill turf and the 1 mile G2 Buena Vista on the turf. Sprint and middle distance turf specialists may not be in the glamour divisions of American horse racing, but no one can deny that Pontchatrain is looking very, very good thus far. 
 
 
10. Groupie Doll—Making her swan song in the G3 Hurricane Bertie, Groupie Doll only wanted her competition to think that she was hopelessly out of the race when she was slow breaking from the gate. Toying with her 6 rivals, Groupie Doll gave the field a good head start before finding her best stride entering the far turn. From there it was game over as the popular mare inhaled her competition and sprinted away from them to cross the wire clear by 7 lengths. She has been without a doubt the best in her division for the last couple years, and it will take a serious sprinter to replace her. She has since moved to second career for owner Mandy Pope and will give birth to a Tapit baby sometime next year. 
 
 
As was the case last year, the way I vote is a little "quirky" in comparison to the way others vote. For example,  Beholder and Princess of Sylmar, ranked 9th and 10th respectively by the NTRA voting body, are not a part of my Top Ten because we have not seen the two lovely fillies in the starting gate yet in 2014. It seems a little unfair by comparison since I did include Wise Dan, but I like to have recent races by which to judge. We all know Wise Dan is a freak of a nature, and a two-time Horse of the Year should not have to fight for his spot in the Top Ten.
 
 
The above ten are only my votes and do not represent the final results of the NTRA vote. Stay tuned throughout the year as I bring you more Top Ten votes and the reasons why I voted the way I did.

 

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Older Comments about Game On Dude tops first NTRA Poll of the season...

My offer still stands John T Billing is still available.Doubt that would make it obvious. Plus since i have been on this site.If i am not mistaken, i am the only one to use the phrase TOOCHEE. Yet only 2 prior to this have seen fit to correct me with the spelling or context. Well Dear John just made it a Hat Trick. i really never knew this Tim Smith or OTG, where they aliases or Blog Celebrities? Nathan, bit of info on Don Tito, hE Threw a shoe during the running of his race. I hope it was accidental and not a form of disrespect. Maybe nest time we will put on an equipment change. SHOE LACES ON. Getting exciting,Vyjack is leaving the House of Chambers and heading North next week. My deep delight in this is that i will get to go to the Seedy Palace again at least 1 more time.Sans security detail.
  • skipaway2000 · All of the commenters on this thread are unique, and accusing someone brand-new of being an alias of someone you have had a beef with in the past is no way to welcome a fellow racing fan (who happens to like the Belmont winner) to this group. Knock it off, please. -- Candice C. (moderator) · 187 days ago
I'd settle for Tim Smith or OTG.
I have one question only.Where is John Barbaro???? Did he only have a caeo role in this thread only.
CFC, I really liked Normandy Invasion last year, too. His return was great, but it's going to take more than an AlwOC win to vault him into the Top Ten when others in his division are already winning big graded stakes races. I will definitely be keeping an eye on him, though.
:) Thank you!
t_v, Read the above posts. Who used the word "unique", and in regard to which person? Mary is (in her own words) "being mean" about my compliment to amino. And, Mary, I thought it was "giggly", too.
most folks don't understand originality and always fear being different. Bravo keep it up and many of us will appreciate your being unique
Giggles. You know I'm just being mean.
I am extremely thankful for the uniqueness :) As in the only one, please. As in the mold was broken, pleasedeargodalmighty.
Tom, Again--the subject was Ashley's and the NTRA polls, not Palace Malice or Curlin or Vyjack.
Blabs ,a few Grand only on him. Why so little,are you losing faith based on one race???Goclin i erred,i meant Palace Malice.
Tom, Curlin had nothing to do with anything in my posts last night. The subject of this thread was the new NTRA poll and Ashley's contribution to it. You had asked for a voter breakdown for the poll several times in the past, and I had checked the NTRA site and linked the information for anyone to see. Amino (as usual) knew/knows exactly what I meant. This entire thread was ludicrously funny last P.M. and I was commenting in that spirit. @amino, Thanks; for what it's worth I think you are a uniquely perceptive, sharp individual.
LOL no, but Normandy Invasion reminds… Oaklawn probably won’t be on the Caliente playlist Saturday either, could you put a few grand on Hoppertunity for me if the entries, scratches, track condition etc. permit? Barnes says he likes Fairgrounds but Hops must be on go. tia :)
Ashley, it is a good list. My apologies for whatever rant I was on. Don't know what significance my earlier post had, but, please disregard. Your list is right-on. Keep an eye open for Normandy Invasion, though. I was high high on him in last year's Derby(which would be his last race of 2013), and thought he briefly had it, at the top of the turn. Set a Gulfstream track record at a mile in his first out this year.
Nathan hope you are not insinuating that i am a candiddate for the nest(LOL)
I realize what Ack Ack did before Cain Hoy sold him BUT those contests were NOT in his Horse of the Year string, SO they should have nothing to do with the brilliant year he had in winning Horse of the Year.
Paranoid referring to jumping at shadows/posts. Just be glad goblin didn’t go Nurse Ratched on you, not that she ever could/would :D
Goblin no disrespect intended.But for one to be paranoid,one has to care about the topic. I rally could give (a you know wha about a rat) about Curlin. I was just stating an opinion and then you started throwing more irrelevant data at me about the list.I thank you for that,you were trying to show me the people that voted but as i stated my points on top ten lists. They are irrelevant ,regardless who makes them out. They change on a weekly basis. If i were to give you an example,if i am discussing racing with you. I want to know from a said point.Who do you consider the best,i want what is in your heart,not what the next race brings. I have already taken this to far an i apologize. I will refrain from commenting on lists going forward. I guess many like them.Just wanted to let you know,regardless if you were making a joke or not Paranoid id definately the wrong word. PM served his purpose in a big way for me this past Saturday. That is the only time he or really any other horse except Vyjack will be relevant to me. Maryas far as Cyrano goes, scroll up and see i was being sarcastic about your pal.But if you dod have any influence with him. He truly is to much of a one trick pony. As far as the comments towards you ,i did hear them.Like you i am the same way.I respect your thinking wheras you do not need help and do not want help and piling on. Lets say that we are both big boys and girls who can tend to our buisiness and do not need the reinforcement of others emails to stroke our tender egos.
tmallios, No sh. Be thankful that you don't hear the comments like I do. P.S. I really doubt there would be a Cyrano used by that person, ever.

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