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Past the Grandstand

Game On Dude: Better with Age?

Game On Dude workout
Photo: Terri Cage Photography


What does it take for a horse to earn respect in the Thoroughbred racing industry? Does it take an Eclipse Award? A Breeders’ Cup triumph? Perhaps a grade one win on the East Coast?

Game On Dude has accomplished none of the above, but that certainly does not mean he’s not one of the best horses in training. Though the six-year-old gelding does not always receive the great respect he deserves, he is abundantly admired and adored. Having raced at nine different tracks since his career began in January of 2010, Game On Dude has been hard to ignore, contesting in twenty-four graded stakes throughout his career, which has spanned twenty-seven starts to date.

The son of Awesome Again began his career on the East Coast as a three-year-old and after a lackluster finish in the Florida Derby (gr. I) in his third lifetime start, Game On Dude acquired new owners and was transferred to the barn of
Bob Baffert. The gelding gradually began to prosper, easily winning the Lone Star Derby (gr. III) in his second start for Baffert prior to running fourth in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) behind Drosselmeyer.

An ankle issue sidelined Game On Dude, but he returned strong as a four-year-old, prepared to unveil the brilliance he had been hiding. In his initial start as a four-year-old, Game On Dude impressively won an allowance optional claiming event at Santa Anita, which served as a prep for the 2011 Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I).

In a breakthrough performance, Game On Dude prevailed in the Big ‘Cap, but not without controversy. After a twelve-minute stewards’ inquiry, the gelding’s nose victory endured, granting the blossoming Thoroughbred with his first grade one win. Little did the racing world know at the time, a mascot for the sport of horse racing had made his mark on the racing scene.

Game On Dude would become a fan favorite, competing in six additional graded stakes events in 2011. After his second grade one victory, which came in the Goodwood Stakes (gr. I), Game On Dude finished a valiant second to Drosselmeyer in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) at Churchill Downs, further proving himself to be a top-class athlete.

Pointed towards the richest race in the world, Game On Dude trounced his rivals in the San Antonio Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita in preparation for the Dubai World Cup (gr. I) at Meydan Racecourse. But an eventful trip to Dubai, during which Baffert suffered a heart attack, resulted in a race through which a line can be drawn.

Two months after his twelfth-place finish in Dubai, Game On Dude returned with resolve, capturing the Californian Stakes (gr. II) at Hollywood Park in a romp. The gelding followed up that score with a win in the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I), earning his third grade one victory of his career.

Despite a narrow loss in the Pacific Classic Stakes (gr. I), Game On Dude remained an icon in the racing world, particularly in California. In his final prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, which would be held at his home track of Santa Anita, Game On Dude easily captured the Awesome Again Stakes (gr. I), a race he had won the previous year before it had been renamed after his sire.

Game On Dude was made the heavy favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but it was simply not meant to be. Tarnishing his perfect record at Santa Anita, Game On Dude was never himself in North America’s richest race, finishing a puzzling seventh. But he ended 2012 on a good note, returning to his element in the Native Diver Stakes (gr. III) at Hollywood Park. With Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith aboard for the first time, the gelding cruised to victory.

It was clear Game On Dude had returned to his winning ways. He began 2013 with a dominant triumph in the San Antonio, earning his second consecutive win in that race. Avoiding Dubai and instead aiming for his second Big ‘Cap victory, Game On Dude encountered eight rivals in the historic contest, including the defending winner Ron the Greek.

There was no need for controversy this time around. Given an easy lead throughout, the six-year-old led from start to finish, coasting to an impressive 7 ¾-length victory that left no doubt as to whom the winner was.

Game On Dude has won his three subsequent starts, including his second victory in the Hollywood Gold Cup and, at last, his first triumph in the Pacific Classic. The latter is perhaps his most impressive race yet. The richest race run annually in California, the Pacific Classic had always eluded Game On Dude. But in the sweetest fashion, Game On Dude proved that the third time is the charm, running away with the Pacific Classic to capture it by 8 ½ lengths – the largest winning margin the race has ever seen. In doing so, Game On Dude joined another popular California-based gelding –
Lava Man – as one of just two horses to win each of California’s premier handicap races: the Santa Anita Handicap, the Hollywood Gold Cup, and the Pacific Classic.

It is easy to believe that Game On Dude is getting better with age. He has not lost a race as a six-year-old, capturing each of his five starts in 2013 by a combined 24 ¼ lengths. Is this finally the year the veteran will take home an Eclipse Award? Only time will tell, but if this fan favorite can maintain his growing brilliance, he just may finally be bestowed one of those coveted trophies – perhaps even the gold one.


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Older Comments about Game On Dude: Better with Age?...

One thing to be said is I'm still impressed on how GOD won at Charles Town, many didn't know the day before the race the track was pelted with heavy rains and though listed as fast it was far from that. I had spoke with Mike Smith after the race and he told me GOD had a horrible time on turns and was loosing footing yet had enough motor to win, IMO that was his best race of the year mainly being far away from his elements.
Thank you for all of your kind words, everyone!
If ANY stamina is about in a horse, it improves with age. Look at the great stamina sports ih humans and the best are in their mid to late 30's not the baby faced tteny boppers.
Very nice article! Game On Dude has certainly not gotten the respect he deserves and I have been hopeful that will change after his ig win in the Pacific Classic. I have been hearing far more about Wise Dan as a HOTY candidate and I think that is completely unfair. I didn't used to really elieve too much in the "East coat bias", but after Zenyatta and now him not getting their due, I would have to say it is alive and well and very unfair.
Wonderful overview of the Dude, Mary, beautifully written. Hope he is able to go all the way this year.
Yah, he has alot(sarcasm) to prove, racing mainly in California. Thing is, as Mary stated, he has been competing there in their top 10f grade 1 routes for three years. So now if he loses the one race, the BCC, then I'm sure I'll be told I'm wrong about thinking he's a top handicap horse. Don't see why I wouldn't include Game On Dude on top in that race, though. Hey, sorry to witch about it, but am I one of the few enjoying the good ones while they run? And yes, Mary, I do think Game On Dude is even better this year.
I think you hit the key points in the Game On Dude debate. Great horse that still has some things to prove.

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About Mary Cage


Mary with champion Classic Empire

Mary Cage, a 21-year-old avid fan of horse racing, has been around horses all her life, having owned, shown, and judged them for as long as she can remember. She began writing her own horse racing blog, Past the Grandstand, in August 2011 and has since been published in America's Horse, American Racehorse and the Appaloosa Journal, as well as with the websites of The Blood-Horse and The Equine Chronicle. She has also had photos published with Paulick Report and Thoroughbred Daily News. In addition, she works as one of the social media coordinators for the Texas Thoroughbred Association and has interned at WinStar Farm with a marketing focus - with projects involving photography, videography, giving tours, data entry, etc. 

In her personal horse experience, Mary has been around horses all her life and has won several Appaloosa National Champion and Reserve World Champion titles in the show ring. She has also worked as a hotwalker and groom.

Mary has always aspired to have a career with horses and since her love for horse racing began, she has dreamed of pursuing a career in the Thoroughbred racing industry, possibly as a writer/photographer and marketing/communications specialist. She is currently attending the University of North Texas, where she is a journalism major with a concentration in advertising and a minor in marketing. With this blog, she hopes to show readers horse racing through the eyes of a young fan and transport you to some of racing's biggest events through her photos and words.

University of Louisville College of Business Equine Program

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