07/09/2012 9:17AM

Weekend Stakes Thoughts


Chantal Sutherland’s winning ride on Game On Dude in the Hollywood Gold Cup was flawless. She did not fight Game On Dude when he wanted to pull himself up to the pacesetter Spud Spivens in the second and third quarter miles, which were the first and third fastest quarters of the race. Sutherland also resisted the natural temptation of setting Game On Dude down turning for home. She instead waited, and waited a bit longer, so that Game On Dude would have something left for the final stages if needed. Sure enough, when Sutherland asked for something late, it was there. And it should also be noted that while the repatriated runner up Richard’s Kid impressed with his big move on the far turn and the way he gained late, Game On Dude was still in front of him in the immediate gallop out past the wire.

But while I believe Game On Dude is currently the best older male we have, and though his Gold Cup win was the second time he has won going 10 furlongs (from six career attempts, which also includes a second in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Classic), I still think this distance is beyond his best. Even though he likes the dirt surface at Santa Anita, site of this year’s Breeders’ Cup, I’m skeptical of Game On Dude in a Breeders’ Cup Classic context. Saturday’s set up was ideal for success; Game On Dude, after all, was 2-5. No Breeders’ Cup set up figures to be as favorable.

Mucho Macho Man was never better than he was beating a very solid field in the Suburban at Belmont. It seems clear that trainer Kathy Ritvo has hit on the right combination for her colt, which is lots of time between starts, and a running style that, in contrast to most of his outings last year, has him a forward early factor. That said, I would have liked to have seen what might have happened had Suburban runner up Hymn Book not been so far back early.

As for beaten Suburban favorite To Honor and Serve, he was totally empty finishing a soundly beaten fourth. At this point, maybe he needs to take a page out of Shackleford’s book and focus on seven furlong and one mile races. Ironically, Shackleford is abandoning the approach that has worked so well for him this year, at least temporarily, to go in the nine furlong Whitney next month. But the Whitney is one of those races you can make exceptions for.

There was one other notable race for the handicap division Saturday, that being the Monmouth Cup. Although Rule deserves credit for winning off a nine month layoff and for being the honest, hard hitter he is, we also know Rule has a well-defined ceiling. So for me, the interesting horse here was runner up Flat Out. It looked to me as though Flat Out, making his first start for trainer Bill Mott, only truly found his best stride very late. Flat Out’s performance offered hope that his slump could be over, and that he again might be the major player in the handicap division that he was last year.

Also at Monmouth, Turbo Compressor continued his emergence as a factor in the male turf division winning the United Nations in the same front running fashion he used to win last month’s Colonial Turf Cup. But I’m not getting too excited here just yet. On Saturday, Turbo Compressor was an in-form horse allowed to walk on the lead over the sort of baked turf course we’ve had in the Northeast lately, which is not exactly tough stuff. As an aside, I counted Joe Bravo, who rode Turbo Compressor, taking eight long looks behind him for competition down the backstretch and on the far turn the final time. Maybe it’s just me, but I really don’t like it when jockeys do that.

At Calder, Musical Romance got her Princess Rooney win, but it does seem as though Princess Rooney runner up Nicole H has developed an aversion to winning that she did not have a couple of years back. And I have been waiting all year to see what would happen if someone actually kept Trinniberg busy early instead of allowing him the easy leads he has had in his stakes wins this year. Fort Loudon gamely took up the challenge and did just that in the Carry Back, and he engineered the upset.