03/03/2013 12:32PM

Game On Dude, Beholder, Vyjack, and Other Thoughts

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Game On Dude and Beholder were terrific winning the Santa Anita Handicap and Las Virgenes Saturday. I mean, they were all class. Game On Dude has always been a little iffy at 10 furlongs, but not in this Big Cap as he won by a city block. And Beholder proved her upset loss in the Santa Ynez in January was an aberration as she scored with total authority.

Then again, it would be a dereliction of a handicapper’s duty not to note that Game On Dude and Beholder were also recipients of highly favorable pace set ups Saturday. Both shook loose on uncontested early leads and were able to set extremely comfortable fractions. Beholder went in 23.78 and 47.55, while Game On Dude went in 23.64 and 47.19. For purposes of comparison, in the two other two turn races earlier in the Santa Anita card, California bred maidens went in 23.11 and 47.12, and conditioned $12,500 claimers went in 23.22 and 47.22.

In other words, Game On Dude and Beholder both walked on the lead, especially by Grade 1 standards. Would they have won if they were required to set stronger paces? Quite possibly, perhaps even likely.  Would they have won as impressively if they faced legitimate pace pressure? That’s the big question, and one we will have to deal with when these two run back in races in which they face real pace competition. And they will. Not every race will be the cakewalks Saturday’s were. But in the meantime, give credit to Game On Dude and Beholder. They were both real good on Saturday, easy trips or not.

Oh, and I guess you could say Game On Dude was lucky he wasn’t ticketed for coming over and crowding Handsome Mike in the first run past the stands. That would have been grounds for disqualification at Beulah, but maybe only if there was a minus show pool at stake.

It’s impossible not to be taken by Vyjack’s near total reversal of running style in the Gotham at Aqueduct, coming from next-to-last to win going away and extend his unbeaten streak to four. I thought the Gotham had the feel of a race that totally fell apart late, which assisted Vyjack’s transformation of style. Nevertheless, he continues to show that it is risky to underestimate him.

As for beaten favorite Overanalyze, you could see he was going nowhere midway on the far turn, and the fact that he still managed to finish fifth probably says something about the race. If you are in a forgiving mood, you could say Overanalyze might have needed the outing as it was his first start in three months. But whatever you do, don’t blame his outside post position. Jockey John Velazquez did a great job getting Overanalyze over to the three path entering the first turn. Heck, Vyjack was wider than Overanalyze on the first turn. Vyjack was five wide there.

Of course, Overanalyze’s empty performance combined with Normandy Invasion’s disappointing effort in last week’s Risen Star despite a tough trip makes you question the strength of last fall’s Remsen. Overanalyze and Normandy Invasion were first and second in the Remsen, only a nose apart. Delhomme was a close third in the Remsen, and it makes you really wonder what we’ll get from him when he makes his 3-year-old debut a week from Saturday in the Rebel.

Conversely, the form of the Holy Bull got a boost when Clearly Now won Saturday’s Swale Stakes at Gulfstream. Granted, Clearly Now did not beat a particularly strong field in the Swale. But the simple fact that he won reflects well on Itsmyluckyday and Shanghai Bobby given that Clearly Now was beaten 13 1-2 and 11 1-2 lengths by those two in the Holy Bull.

My early vote for Iron Horse of 2013 goes to Comma to the Top. In the span of a week, Comma to the Top finished a close third in the San Carlos at Santa Anita after contesting a fast pace, shipped across country to Aqueduct, and somehow managed to come again after appearing certainly beaten by Saturday’s Charm near the wire to win the Tom Fool. That’s toughness right there, folks.