In his first start since a gritty second in the $5 million Breeders’
Cup Classic last Nov. 5, defending Santa Anita Handicap champion Game On Dude gave every indication Sunday that he again would be a major player
among the nation’s older horses at the age of 5.
With regular rider Chantal Sutherland at the controls for
trainer Bob Baffert, Game On Dude ran off with Santa Anita’s 74th
running of the Grade II, $200,000 Santa Antonio Handicap while defeating
Uh Oh Bango by 5 ¼ lengths and covering 1 1/8 miles in a brisk 1:46.88.
In scoring his fourth win in as many races over Santa Anita’s
dirt surface, the 3-10 favorite was in control throughout. Although not
breaking as alertly as usual in the field of five, Game On Dude soon
gained a stalking position just behind early leader Skipshot.
He overtook Skipshot on the backside after traversing four
furlongs in 45.91 and widened rounding the far turn just as 4-1 second
choice Uh Oh Bango, winner of last month’s Grade II San Pasqual Stakes,
launched his bid.
But Game On Dude would have nothing to do with that. He simply
increased his advantage under Sutherland’s urging while passing six
furlongs in 1:09.12 and one mile in 1:33.91. Uh Oh Bango, with Mike
Smith aboard, finished 12 ¼ lengths clear of the third horse, Victory
Pete, handled by Martin Garcia. The winner paid $2.60, $2.20 and $2.10.
Uh Oh Bango returned $3 and $2.20. Victory Pete paid $3 to show.
Former Dodgers and Yankees manager Joe Torre, who owns Game On
Dude in partnership with Ernie Moody, the Lanni Family Trust and Bernie
Schiappa, greeted Sutherland and the Awesome Again gelding in the
winner’s circle. It was the first time Torre had an opportunity to
personally watch the winner of over $1.9 million in 2011.
“He’s such a good horse,” Sutherland exclaimed. “He was strong
today and we had a lot left. He wasn’t even sweating when he came back.
It was like a workout for him. I had to look at the TV to see if anybody
was around because I couldn’t hear anybody. When I looked at the TV and
saw it was clear sailing, I was so happy.
“What’s amazing about this horse is that when I went up to Joe
Talamo’s horse (Skipshot), he was so aggressive and wanted to pass him.
Once he passed him, he relaxed. I knew he needed to keep doing his
business, and he was very responsive to me.”
“He ran hard,” Baffert said. “He’d been training really well. We
knew he was up for a big race, but I thought my horses yesterday would
run great, and they laid eggs.
“Talamo was out there going really fast, I thought. You’ve got to
watch out for certain jockeys picking up speed. But she (Sutherland)
put the horse in a spot and that’s what you have to do to win.”
Baffert was noncommittal on what might be next for Game On Dude,
whose career earnings rose to $2,254,658 from a 6-4-1 record in 15
starts. His options are to remain at Santa Anita and defend his title in
the Big ’Cap prior to Santa Anita’s hosting of the Breeders’ Cup in
early November or going to Dubai for the $10 million Dubai World Cup on
March 31 and running over a less desirable synthetic surface.
“We’ll talk to the owners,” Baffert said, “but a lot has to do
with what kind of weight we get and all that stuff. Last year, we got in
real light (115 pounds in the Santa Anita Handicap). We’re just trying
to enjoy this right now.
“He’s nominated to Dubai, but the thing about Dubai is that it’s
getting more and more difficult for American horses to win there because
of the new track layout and the synthetic. You don’t know what to
expect. We can think about it. It’s an option, so we’re gong to leave
all options open for now.”
Torre deferred on the Santa Anita Handicap option. “When I was
managing,” he said. “I always relied on my coaches when I had to make
decisions on the baseball field. The main thing is, we want to do what’s
right for the horse, and the one who knows best about that is Bob
Torre added that he thoroughly enjoyed Sunday’s experience. “This
is exciting,” he said. “Last time, at the Breeders’ Cup, my daughter
had a performance, so that obviously took precedence. It’s been a great