Stylish San Antonio Return for Game On Dude

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 Baffert.”


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 day.”



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