07/07/2013 11:42AM

Hats Off to the Old Pros

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It seems entirely appropriate that on this long holiday weekend celebrating the independence of our country 237 years ago, it was the veterans of our sport who provided the biggest fireworks:

Game On Dude, age 6, won the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup Handicap Saturday at Betfair Hollywood Park.

Flat Out, age 7, won the Grade 2 Suburban Handicap Saturday at Belmont Park.

Ben’s Cat, also 7-years-old, won the $200,000 Parx Dash Handicap Friday at Parx Racing.

And Big Blue Kitten, a relatively spy 5, outfinished 6-year-old Teaks North to win the Grade 1 United Nations Saturday at Monmouth Park.

The most noteworthy aspect to Game On Dude’s victory wasn’t necessarily that he won – he was the prohibitive 3-10 favorite despite having to shoulder 127 pounds – or his performance – Game On Dude walked on the lead through uncontested opening fractions of 25.00 and 49.31, leaving him with plenty in reserve to turn back Kettle Corn, to whom he was conceding a not-insignificant 11 pounds. For me, the big deal about Game On Dude is, at an age when most horses have finished racing or are past peak if they are still running, he still operates at the top of his game (no pun intended). Outside of an easily forgiven loss in the Dubai World Cup in the spring of 2012, and an ill-timed dud in the Breeders’ Cup Classic last fall, Game On Dude now hasn’t finished worse than second in 14 starts dating back more than 22 months. And every one of those 14 outings were in graded stakes, nine of them in Grade 1’s.

I know that we are all looking for that horse who will take our breath away. But with that kind of brilliance so scarce, if not completely absent, there is room in the meantime to admire the sort of consistency and longevity at a high level that Game On Dude offers.

Flat Out and Ben’s Cat are much like Game On Dude. In the case of Flat Out, again the fact that he won the Suburban wasn’t the thing. By every measure, Flat Out towered over his Suburban field, making his even money odds seem like a gift, and his 119 pound impost seem woefully insufficient. But a notable aspect to Flat Out’s second career Suburban score was how it underscored the way he has managed to maintain successful upswings of form while still operating at high levels of the sport. That just isn’t an easy thing for a horse his age to do. And the way he won Saturday was also noteworthy. If there was one question about Flat Out Saturday, it was whether there was enough early pace to make it really easy for him. So what Flat Out did was take matters upon himself, and he surprisingly forced the pace, being a more aggressive early factor than he had ever been in 24 previous career starts.

One other quick point. There will be those who will attribute Flat Out’s win Saturday to a horse winning on his course. It is true that Flat Out has had more success at Belmont Park than he has had anywhere else, winning two Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cups. But Flat Out also hit the board in two Whitneys and a Woodward at Saratoga, and was a commendable third in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita while racing against a speed bias. So he’s not exactly a stiff away from Belmont.

Ben’s Cat, some 10 lengths out of it early in the Parx Dash, looked every bit the winner midway on the far turn while still in a significant hole, which says a lot about the way he has conditioned those of us who have watched him at work. And sure enough, his devastating late run got him there in plenty of time. Friday’s victory was the 17th – that’s right, 17th – career stakes victory for Ben’s Cat, and his 22 overall victory from 33 career starts. What’s more, Ben’s Cat has knocked out almost $1.6 million in earnings the hard way, almost exclusively in sprints, and in largely ungraded races. Those are numbers worth celebrating.

Finally, although Big Blue Kitten is a mature 5, he was doing something for the first time in the United Nations that he had never before attempted in this country, something that circumstances, and an unsuccessful venture to Royal Ascot last year, prevented him from doing. For the first time here, Big Blue Kitten got the chance to go an extended distance on the turf, something that this son of Kitten’s Joy and an Unaccounted For mare was born to do. And Big Blue Kitten made the most of the opportunity, seizing the biggest prize of his career so far with a strong late run.

But looking ahead off the United Nations, there is reason to be optimistic about Little Mike. Little Mike set a solid pace in the U.N. before tiring in the last of the race’s 11 furlongs to finish fourth. By itself, this effort was a step forward off two forgettable outings in Dubai earlier this year. But when you consider that Little Mike had not really run a representative race since he prevailed in the Breeders’ Cup Turf last fall, Saturday’s performance certainly seems like one he can build on.

Oh, by the way, Little Mike is 6-years-old.

Sam Shelby More than 1 year ago
Your consistent stars are going to be geldings. Almost everyone of note from the TC races will be retired soon. Thats the way it is.
michael ryan More than 1 year ago
We need to see the "dude" accomplish something outside of California!
Big Jeff More than 1 year ago
why?
Ann Ferland More than 1 year ago
West Virginia doesn't count as 'outside of California?'
Anil More than 1 year ago
Mike you were dead on with Big Blue Kitten...Good handicapping again.
ALEJANDRO ANZA More than 1 year ago
What about Calidoscopio?
Vince More than 1 year ago
retired
Ann Ferland More than 1 year ago
Southern Hemisphere breeding season begins in September. Has to go into quarantine before he goes home. Racing career over.
Rob More than 1 year ago
Mike since we are talking about older horses how about Immortal Eyes winning a stake race at Mth in 109 and change I believe he is 8 years old nice to see the best horses at Charlestown taking there show on the road. Dance To Bristol and we havn't heard the last of Lucy's Bob Boy who broke poorly Saturday in Salvotore Mile then rushed up and got beat by a rail biaz.
Michael Castellano More than 1 year ago
It's time for racing to do something to preserve the breed, instead of sending horses, many of which break down at 2 and 3 years old, off to stud before they can show their soundness. By weighting purses to favor older horses, perhaps some folks can be deterred from the breeding shed until their horses are older if at all. I know breeding makes the sport, but we are breeding cripples these days. It's no accident that we have not had a triple crown winner in over 35 years. There are no horses around anymore at age three that are strong enough to win all three races.
MICHAEL More than 1 year ago
Nobody cares as long as the commercial breeders still making a profit.....but eventually the industry will keep declining and hardly anyone will get into the industry.....4/5 horses in a G1 race tells you the handwriting is on the wall.....squeezing the last few drops.....
Ann Ferland More than 1 year ago
Just for reference, there was a G1 filly-and-mares race at Newmarket in England today and only 4 showed up. It was wfa. In their handicaps, which often have a 30-pound spread in weights, the English often have 25-30 run. Which is a betting contest, a real handicap or a wfa race?
MICHAEL More than 1 year ago
meh...the Brits are cloning us by hyping a miler in Frankel.....they now have a championship stakes at the end of the year where their top race is 10 furlongs.....the reason being their breeding is getting away from their derby horses to 8-10 furlong horses....
Marco Antonio Guerrero More than 1 year ago
soo mike who is the best older horse soo far this year?
Robert Johnson More than 1 year ago
Agreed! True fans try to hold on to any little positive left to hang on too. Thanks Dude.
Gregg Boyer More than 1 year ago
Mike, could you help me find out the current status of " Went The Day Well "? He went through tie back surgery and was in training at Fair Hills Farm. I am most interested in knowing when he will run next? Thank you for your help. gregg.kevin.boyer@gmail.com
Jordan More than 1 year ago
Mike and others like myself are not trying to make Game on Dude or Flat Out or Ben's Cat all-time greats. But if ALL you can take away from their wins this weekend are 5 horse fields this, horse for course that, then you are are a horse player but not a true fan. A true fan of this sport is able to appreciate a horse like Game on Dude PEAKING at age 6 after winning graded stakes for 4 years and compiling a career total of 12 graded stakes wins, 6 grade 1s, and $5 million. A horse simply cannot sustain such excellence and accumulate such accomplishments by being mediocre, or feasting entirely off weak fields. And while Flat Out is clearly best at Belmont, as Mike wrote, he is a capable horse at other tracks. And even if he was a horse for Belmont, at least Belmont is one of the great tracks of North America and has long seasons. And at 7, the fact that Flat Out can dominate at any major track is worthy of admiration. Ben's Cat is certianly worhty of more attention, but at least he doesn't also receive the criticism of a horse like Game on Dude. Over a 3 day period we saw Wise Dan, Flat Out, and Game on Dude win graded stakes. Yet, all some people chose to do was find negatives, crtique, and downplay. I'm not advocating an imbalance towards rainbows and butterflies, but it's sad if ALL you took away from those performances is negatives and criticism.
Big Jeff More than 1 year ago
Very well said. The constant bashing and whining is OLD. These are competitive horses that are holding their form and continuing to win races. To continually bash their accomplishments is foolish, at best.(lol,omg, bff, xoxo, lmao)
Ann Ferland More than 1 year ago
Ben's Cat and Game on Dude are geldings, so they have nothing better to do than race. Flat Out is still an entire horse, which makes it unexpected to see him still racing at his age. The thing is, he doesn't have the kind of pedigree that would make him eligible to appeal to the 'breed-to-sell' set, which is the upper echelon of the commercial breeding industry these days. He didn't win a Triple Crown race or a Breeders' Cup race (looks so good in the stallion ads, don't you know), so he may be one horse who can actually make more money racing than as a stallion, at this point. That was the reason we saw even Skip Away, Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Lemon Drop Kid, and that lot racing at even at 4 - 'not commercial.'
MICHAEL More than 1 year ago
They are not commercial because the commercial breeders wants sprinters to milers to sell....horses that can win at 2 or 3.....the aim today is to win the BC juvy.....at 8.5 furlongs.....then you are supposedly a champion.....