This one might not have the verve of the recent Point of Entry and Animal Kingdom showdown, but what the pending clash between Game On Dude and Ron the Greek does have, is that fading phenomenon known as longevity. Set to do battle in the prestigious Santa Anita Handicap are two of American racing’s grand warriors. While the sport of racing is besieged with stars being retired before we even get a chance to put their photos on our walls, Game On Dude and Ron the Greek are a different breed. Both old men are now six-years-young, and while many others that took down stakes back in 2010 are getting ready for breeding season number three, Game On Dude and Ron the Greek have never been better. And by that of course I mean, on the track.
A winner of 11 of 23 lifetime races, Game On Dude enters Saturday’s Grade 1 showdown in fine fettle. After a disappointing run as the favorite in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, a race in which his chances were greatly compromised by a poor break from the gate, California’s top older male has bounced back with two strong victories. In December, he refused to yield to a very game Nonios in the Native Diver. More recently, Game On Dude demonstrated complete authority while rolling to a romping victory in the Grade 2 San Antonio for trainer, Bob Baffert. The nine-time graded stakes winner has been assigned the highweight impost of 125 pounds and figures to go off the favorite once again. Arguably his most important victory to date was this very race back in 2011, when he dug in as game as could be to win the Big ‘Cap by a nose. He also had to survive a claim of foul that day.
The Dude was unable to defend his title in the Big ‘Cap last year due to an unsuccessful and eventful sojourn to Dubai. The horse that was more than willing to etch his name is on the trophy last year, is … you guessed it, Ron the Greek.
Exploding down the Santa Anita stretch last year as if shot from a cannon, the Bill Mott trained Ron the Greek also found his most important victory to date in the Big ‘Cap. The Greek rolled home by 3 ½ lengths in last year’s edition; a win that helped secure his place among the most feared older horses in the land.
He added a win in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster over eventual Horse of the Year, Wise Dan, as well as, several other good efforts, before coming home 4th in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Like Game On Dude, he has an excuse in that BC, as the track bias did his late running style no favors. He has only run once this year, but it was an absolute pip. Taking to the sloppy track at Gulfstream Park like a Greek to saganawki, the son of Full Mandate turned his expected battle with Mucho Macho Man into a one-horse race. The powerful 11 length-plus victory in the Sunshine Millions Classic can be easily described as the most impressive performance so far of 2013. Also with 23 races in the career bank, Ron the Greek’s stretch running prowess makes him a strong second choice to Game On Dude.
The Big ‘Cap is a grand old race. First contested back in 1935, its’ roll call of winners can match that of just about any race run on United States soil. It has been won by such giants in the sport as Seabiscuit, Noor, Round Table, Ack Ack, Cougar II, Affirmed, Spectacular Bid, John Henry, Alysheba, Best Pal, Tiznow, and Lava Man. Many of these heavy hitters won the big race at the advanced age of 5, 6, or 7. A race like this deserves more than a flash in the pan winner. The Big ‘Cap deserves to be won by a classy and professional horse that has been there and done that. I believe that in one of the last two winners, Game On Dude or Ron the Greek, this year’s edition of the grand old race will have a winner in which the fans can be proud.