Dude Has a Coming Out Party

July 10, 2011 05:25pm
As many of us predicted, the Hollywood Gold Cup gave the Handicap division a much needed leader, even though it was not the one most of us were expecting. Twirling Candy, the 11/10 favorite was expected to make a splash and take command of the muddled division, especially after winning the Grade Two Californian in his last start. He was the only horse on dirt or synthetic to have repeat stakes wins this year and was looking like he was ready seize control, but when the gates opened and the field turned for home it was not Twirling Candy running them all down, it was First Dude.

In 2010, First Dude seemed to be as shy as could be, never wanting to have his picture taken in the winner’s circle. Was it because of his figure? We will never know. However, the son of Stephen Got Even went on an impressive spree of places in the top three year old races in the country, such as the Preakness, Belmont, Haskell Invitation, and Travers. You name and he was there, but just never quite getting the win. Everyone claimed that as a four year old he would finally break out of his shell and become a brute on the track, but in his first two starts of the season the colt didn’t even break the top three.

It was after the Sunshine Millions that owner Donald Dizney decided to shake things up, sending First Dude out west to be under the care of
Bob Baffert. At first it didn’t seem like the change did any good at all as First Dude faded to finish sixth in the Santa Anita Handicap. After that poor performance Baffert decided to do some shaking up of his own, converting the speedy frontrunner into a patient closer. The change proved to be the key and it saw First Dude return to the winner’s circle not once, but two times in as many tries, before the Gold Cup.

After achieving his graded stakes victory in the Alysheba, Baffert brought the colt back out west to tackle one of the toughest fields the division has seen this season. At the top of the stretch the race was between Game on Dude and Twirling Candy… that was until Martin Garcia got that giant motor of First Dude’s to kick in. Once in gear First Dude began to eat away at the distance with those gargantuan strides and nailed his stablemate right on the wire.

The victory not only gave First Dude his elusive first Grade one victory, but vaulted him to the top of the division. He has now become the only other horse to win two graded stakes in his division, and the only to do so consecutively this year. The fact that he owns a win over the Churchill Downs dirt and over the Classic distance makes him the horse with the least amount of questions to answer going to the Classic. The Dude has finally stepped it up. It may have taken him longer than anticipated, but now that he has he stands the biggest chance at become the Handicap star the division so desperately needs.


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Older Comments about Dude Has a Coming Out Party...

Good article Laura. The transformation of First Dude from a front-runner to a closer has been quite a transformation for the son of Stephen Got Even. His new style is so much better suited for his body-type. The Dude is a big colt that hits the ground hard. The way he closed in the Gold Cup reminded me of how Curlin use to grind them down. A winner of three in-a-row, it now seems like The Dude has no problem taking pictures in the winners circle. I think his style is perfect for Churchill Downs and the classic distance. And remember he was in the race last year as a three-year-old against one of the best fields ever assembled. This year I can visualize him getting a similar trip to the one Blame got in the Classic. There's still alot of racing til then, and Baffert needs to figure out what his next race will be. Although the Pacific Classic looks like the most likely spot. I'm not so sure if First Dude will be able to grip and dig as well on Del Mar's poly-track. He is 3 for 3 in the money lifetime on synthetic tracks, so with him I think the surface probably doesn't matter, but nonetheless it is Del Mar
I agree about the dirt statement Stevebiscuit, but you never know until they run in a circle. Personally I've always been a fan of First Dude and felt he had this win coming, so i'm not upset by the finish in the least. All three performed like champs.
Run that race on dirt and Twirling Candy wins.
Baffert is the man on the west coast~!
Nice article Laura, well done. It was a great race and I went back and forth between the Dudes and settled on Game on Dude due to Chantal back in the irons. Not convinced any one horse is taking charge of any divisions yet, lot's of racing left before BC time.ie
Have to give a lot of credit to Baffert. You're right in that changing his style was the key.
Finally ... Dude looks like a winner!
I agree, Dude has to be the favorite at this point for the Classic, and Game on Dude is not too far behind.

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Meet Laura Pugh

Laura Pugh got her first taste of Thoroughbred racing when she watched War Emblem take the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 2002. At that point, she fell in love with the sport, reading every piece of news and information she could get her fingertips on.

Laura has a long history with horses in general, taking her first ride on her fifth birthday, with her first official riding lesson when she was eight years old. Both years she attended college, she joined her school’s equestrian team, first at Virginia Intermont College and then again at Delaware State University. Unfortunately, after back and shoulder injuries, she had to hang up her saddle. 

In 2010, Laura began writing for Horse Racing Nation and has also contributed to Lady and the Track, TwinSpires and USRacing. She currently works at a local newspaper as a community reporter.

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