03/09/2014 11:40AM

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.

Dave More than 1 year ago
You're knocking Golden Ticket? He was second in the BC Mile and won the Travers. Seems to show up only every so often but when he does he's legit.
Jordan More than 1 year ago
Most grade 1 wins by North American based male thoroughbreds in the 21st Century: Game on Dude, Wise Dan- 8 Curlin, Gio Ponti, Lava Man- 7 Wise Dan has won 15 graded stakes in total, Dude has won 14. Skip Away, the last superstar war horse, won 16 graded stakes and 10 grade 1s. Dan and Dude are getting in to some rarified air.
tim More than 1 year ago
Yes, Dude is a nice story. But Skip Away won his Grade 1's all over the place against the very best horses. He beat Cigar when Cigar was in his prime. Although Formal Gold got the best of him, he beat Formal Gold. He beat Gentleman. He won major stakes races at Woodbine, Keeneland, Belmont, Holllywood Park, Pimlico, Gulfstream...he even won at Hawthorne and Suffolk Downs. That is something we will never see again.
Jordan More than 1 year ago
In no way was I implying that Dude or even Dan are the equals of Skip Away. That gray beast was a legit all-timer. Sonny campaigned him old school, and for 3 years the horse was an Eclipse champ even though he shipped everywhere. I was more emphasizing that from a pure statistical angle, Dan and Dude are moving into some elite company, because anytime you can be even mentioned in the same sentence with Skippy it's a big deal.
Jordan More than 1 year ago
No one is disputing that Santa Anita was insanely fast on Saturday. Game on Dude ran 2 seconds faster in this BigCap compared to last year's Big Cap, even though his Beyers were the same. Thus, Santa Anita was 10 lengths faster Saturday than it was on last year"s Big Cap day. And while very fast tracks are often biased in favor of speed, it isn't always the case. Clearly, like most days at SA, it helped to be close to the pace, but early position didn't dictate outcomes. The track did allow Sahara Sky to win from well off the pace. And keep in mind that Cali Chrome was the fave in the Sam Felipe and coming off two daylight scores and that Dude had already won 2 Big Caps before Saturday. The track also allowed Blingo to rally late for 3rd over MMM. I think if there was a bias it was an inside bias. The one thing shared by most winners on the card, whether pace setter, stalker, or closer is that they spent a solid part of their race on or near the rail.
Jackson Jackson More than 1 year ago
The idea that SA was 10 lengths faster is a crock . MMM has run 3 10 f races at SA . His times were 2;00 1/5 , 2:00 3/5th , 2:00 1/5th . He ran his best race nearly exactly to the 100th of a second . Why didn't MMM chase it out in even 1:59 which would be 6 lengths faster than he is ? It's not like MMM doesn't chase it out . Let one person here say MMM is not a chaser ... then we can really laugh out loud ... The fact is MMM is a gauge horse . He hasn't run a race in 18 months that varied more than 1 or 2 fifths at any distance on any track . Both Dude and WTC are horses that show in their form that they can run very fast on any given day . Not so for MMM . He's reasonably fast . That's it ! Nothing more . He's a tryer and if the other horses keep it to his speed he can win . If another horse runs extra fast he has no chance , but he will continue to chase and be how fast he is . Just like he did in the Big Cap. Look ... the Big Cap has been run in under 2:00... 15 times . All but two of those were run by Household Name top of the line horses . HOFers and champions. Two horses have done it twice ... John Henry & Game on Dude . It's obvious when perusing the list of horses that have done it that the track didn't make them fast . The horses made the track fast !!!... I dispute that the track was insanely fast ... This is baloney for the sole purpose of diminishing what Dude just did. He fairly well ran as fast as any VERY fast horse can go on any track anywhere .... I was there for Affirmed ... I was there for Bid's Strub ..... Project CC out to 10 F and don't forget to add a few ticks for distance .... MMM beats him by 5 lengths . Just like he's supposed to do . The track was not insanely fast . It was a fast track at SA ... the same as it is 98.73 % of the time at SA .
Kenny More than 1 year ago
The Kilroe was a joke, Smith rode a great one on the speed
gus stewart More than 1 year ago
How about Ca chrome going wire to wire in 140 and change and God going 158 and change and breaking stakes record of over 70 years . Also within one second of the bid....... Lets say enough info to say way over the stop speed favoring. Sahara sky saved a ton of ground and really didn't beat much but he is a nice horse
DANCERS1FAN . More than 1 year ago
Excellent article! It's about time that somebody evaluated Game On Dude's race the way it ACTUALLY happened instead of what they wanted to believe happened.
Justin Carey More than 1 year ago
why heitai gets no props or recognition.. i think half the world haasnt even heard of the monster
Michael Watchmaker More than 1 year ago
Heitai is certainly in good form, but he capitalized Saturday on what has been a profound inside bias at Fair Grounds,
Justin Carey More than 1 year ago
totally agree..biggest FG bias ever . but what about the previous races
Beenthere Donethat More than 1 year ago
It is a rare special occurrence when a horse that runs so well on very fast tracks gets to run on a very fast track. I am by no means a big Ca. racing fan, but I still come away from race with the feeling that I watched a special performance. For one day Dude is king because there is not another horse in the entire world that could have beat him in that race, not one. He truly ran as fast over the distance as a horse can possibly run.
AzHorsePlayer More than 1 year ago
I think it's time everyone gives GOD his credit that he willingly deserves even if your not a fan...the horse shows up for all the big races regardless of who enters against him or not... Is he in the top 10 or even top 20 of all time probably not but is he in the top 3 in older older male horse running for the past 3-4 years now, absolutely:)
Philip More than 1 year ago
Love Game On. May have been the top horse of any age last year with at least a close 3rd in the BCC. I am sure you were joking a bit when you used the phrase "even top 20 of all time probably not". But for those new to the sport, the top 20 is so elite that that there are 5 Triple Crown Winners that are ranked below the top 20 by all serious thoroughbred historians. SV
tim More than 1 year ago
Funny how the scraped track and speed bias stuff comes out after the race. If everybody knew that this track was so biased towards front runners, then why did a horse who had so much success over this track, and the defending champ of the race, and the lone speed....sent off at 7/2? That was the highest price he had been in America since he was 8/1 when he barely lost to Drosselmeyer. Get a kick out of the so called experts who do nothing but complain about track biases and bad jockey rides when the horse they pick and bet comes up short. Get some humility and just admit you were wrong!
Bill Kaup More than 1 year ago
Most handicappers are strongly influenced by the last race. Admittedly, Game on Dude's last race wasn't good at all. On the other hand, would Baffert have run the horse in the Big Cap if he thought he might embarrass himself again? Doubt it. Baffert also realized that Game On Dude ought to be able to get the lead without unduly exerting himself as there wasn't a lot of quality speed signed on. Was there a speed bias on the track Saturday? Well, every race on the card except one {Sahara Sky} was won by frontrunners.
Bill Kaup More than 1 year ago
I went back and checked the running lines and three dirt races were won by horses coming off the pace. Doesn't seem to be enough evidence to suggest there was a speed bias at work. Game on Dude was simply the best horse on Saturday. Period.
tim More than 1 year ago
Agree. Thank you for a logical/unbiased opinion. I did not think Dude could lose the San Antonio but did not wager because he was 1/5. I bet him in the Big Cap more so because of the odds than anything else. These experts who constantly complain about jockeys and biases are tough to listen too. They really need some humility.