03/09/2014 12:40PM

Big Cap, and Other Weekend Notes

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Game On Dude’s decisive victory in Saturday’s Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap was, as you probably know by now, his unprecedented third Big Cap score. It was also his eighth career Grade 1 win, and pushed his career earnings past the $6 million mark. But in one major respect, Game On Dude’s victory Saturday was the most important of his highly accomplished career.

Putting aside for a moment the question going into this Big Cap of whether Game On Dude had, at age 7, lost his game after his empty non-performance at 1-5 in last month’s San Antonio, the big knock on Game On Dude was always this: He could beat up on questionable opposition and small fields, but whenever he had to face legitimately good horses, he folded, like clockwork.

Not anymore.

On Saturday, Game On Dude faced a horse in Mucho Macho Man who won two Grade 1 races over the Santa Anita main track last fall, including the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and who won his prep for the Big Cap by 14 lengths. He also faced a horse in Will Take Charge who missed by a nose in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, who was last year’s champion 3-year-old male, and who was coming off an excellent second in his first start at 4. In the past, Game On Dude would get weak in the knees against this kind. But this time, he stood up, and met the challenge successfully.

And what’s more, Game On Dude did so without any breaks Saturday. Oh, he might have been traveling well within himself, but he still faced early pressure from Hear the Ghost, and not long after rejecting that, he was put under renewed pressure from both Mucho Macho Man, and Will Take Charge. Game On Dude absorbed what they threw at him, too. His win was thoroughly earned.

Will Take Charge ran another fine race finishing second, a city block ahead of everyone else. Will Take Charge, who has been racing closer up early as he has matured, might have been a touch too close Saturday, presumably to lessen the first run advantage Mucho Macho Man had on him. And that may have taken away a bit from his stretch punch, although in the end, Will Take Charge was still only second best.

The big disappointment in the Big Cap, obviously, was Mucho Macho Man’s dull fourth place finish. Mucho Macho Man, who was clearly beaten early on the far turn, has tossed in dud efforts in the past without warning, and then rebounded from them. I would expect the same this time from Mucho Macho Man, just like Game On Dude rebounded from the San Antonio.

Other weekend notes:

California Chrome was really, really good winning the San Felipe. I would feel a little better about him if the San Felipe wasn’t made easier with the scratch of Bayern, and if he didn’t get pace pressure from only Midnight Hawk, who got left, and who is obviously distance challenged at this point in his career. But those are minor quibbles. California Chrome, who won in the past with stalking tactics, can now win on the lead, too.

The Tampa Bay Derby was won in similar front running fashion by upsetter Ring Weekend. But for me, this race had a completely different feel. Ring Weekend was only a modest maiden winner before Saturday, so he must validate this vastly improved performance. And to be honest, this particular edition of the Tampa Bay Derby attracted only at best second-level Derby aspirants.

I did, however, like Bobby’s Kitten’s easy win in his 3-year-old bow on the Tampa Bay Derby undercard. Yes, I know Bobby’s Kitten is a turf horse. I know he looks like a one-way front-runner right now who tends to get a little rank early. And I know he’ll probably try to get into the Kentucky Derby by gaining points in a Polytrack prep. I still think this colt is a running fool.

Beyond the San Felipe, the other big undercard stakes at Santa Anita were terrific races. Sahara Sky got his distance in the San Carlos and, by getting up with a rush late, served notice that he is indeed back. Few are as good as he is at seven to eight furlongs when he is on his game. And Winning Prize continued his ascendency in the turf miler ranks with his determined score in the Kilroe Mile.

The Kilroe Mile looks like it could be an important race going forward. Lochte’s game second proved his big upset win in the Gulfstream Park Turf was no fluke. Suggestive Boy and Silentio ran well to be third and fifth after tough trips. And Za Approval raced as though he was short off the layoff, yet was beaten less than two lengths finishing fourth.

For the record, I’m predisposed to liking Palace Malice. He was good to me when he won the Belmont, and I thought he was best when fourth in the Travers won by Will Take Charge. And I will give all the credit due Palace Malice for showing great courage coming again after appearing beaten to prevail in the Gulfstream Park Handicap. However, I don’t think it’s a good thing that Palace Malice struggled as much as he did to edge Golden Ticket and Uncaptured.

Testa Rossi was very impressive visually winning the Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay, and Diversy Harbor, who came from the clouds to win the China Doll at Santa Anita, looks like a genuine runner.

I wish I could be as enthusiastic about Sweet Reason’s comeback win Friday at Aqueduct. Sweet Reason, winner of the Grade 1 Spinaway and best when second in the Grade 1 Frizette last year, did return in a two-turn race, and I’ve suspected since her fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies that she might in essence be a closing sprinter. But her comeback race was also against weak opposition, and yet not only did Sweet Reason have to work a bit to score, her time was so slow that it translated to a Beyer Figure of only 58.