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Smith Happy to be Riding Game On Dude

Horse of the Year seemed Game On Dude’s for the taking had he won or even fired his best shot in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 2. Instead, the durable gelding turned in an uncharacteristic dud, his second straight in the big race.

He followed that by righting the ship in the Grade I Clark Handicap Nov. 29, finishing second by a head to Will Take Charge, the Preakness winner and Eclipse Award winner as outstanding male 3-year-old of 2013.

Each time, Game On Dude was ridden by Mike Smith, who will be aboard Saturday for the San Antonio Stakes, a race Game On Dude won last year before going on to a record 7 ¾-length triumph in the Santa Anita Handicap, which he won by a nose in 2011, surviving a stewards’ inquiry before being declared the official winner.

Smith, riding better than ever at age 48, expects another solid effort from Game On Dude, a 7-year-old son of Awesome Again trained by Bob Baffert.

“I’m happy to be back on him,” said the Hall of Fame jockey, who has ridden Game On Dude seven times, winning five. “He seems to be training really well and he’s doing great. The older he gets, the better, it seems. Throw out his Breeders’ Cup effort, he had a helluva year, probably a better year than anyone, to be honest with you, or as good as anyone. Hopefully he can get it all right this time.”

Still, Smith was somewhat mystified about the Classic. “He was on the bridle pretty hard early, and let go of it early, so I’m not sure what that was all about,” Smith said. “It wasn’t like he ran and got outrun; he didn’t run.

“But this is a new year.”

Sean McCarthy is optimistic that Majestic Harbor will give a good account of himself in the San Antonio, based on his solid second to Blueskiesnrainbows, despite Tyler Baze losing his whip in the stretch run.

“I’m not concerned with the distance (a mile and an eighth); I really have no other alternative with him, honestly,” McCarthy said. “He doesn’t have any conditions. He had the allowance race today (sixth race), which is tough, so we opted for a tough race for $300,000.

“I prefer the distance, so why not take a try? He’s doing well, and there’s no reason not to. If you don’t go here, there’s nowhere to go for another four weeks until the Big Cap (March 8), and that would be a long time between races, so we really don’t have any other alternatives.

“The loss of the stick had no impact. I think it upset Tyler more than anyone else. He blamed himself, but he didn’t need to. The horse kind of surged on a little bit anyway, so losing the stick I don’t think cost him anything.”

The field for the San Antonio: Willyconker, Fernando Perez, 20-1; American Blend, Joe Talamo, 10-1; Blueskiesnrainbows, Martin Pedroza, 3-1; Majestic Harbor, Tyler Baze, 6-1; Game On Dude, Mike Smith, 3-5; Blingo, Aaron Gryder, 6-1; and Imperative, Kent Desormeaux, 30-1.

 

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