01/08/2014 1:11PM

2013 Eclipse Awards: Game On Dude



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If nothing else, Game On Dude deserves some kind of an Eclipse Award for honorable time served. As long ago as June 2010, Game On Dude, a gelded son of Awesome Again, could be found in the post parade for the 142nd running of the Belmont Stakes alongside the likes of Ice Box, Stately Victor, Drosselmeyer, and Fly Down. Game On Dude finished fourth that day, and he was hardly embarrassed, beaten just 2 1/2 lengths at the end of the classic 1 1/2 miles.

Since his return to the races in January 2011, Game On Dude has been the most reliably consistent older horse doing business year-in and year-out, coast to coast, over a variety of main tracks. During a stretch of 33 months, while never needing a serious break, Game On Dude has raced 23 times, all but once in a graded stakes. Of those 23, he won 13, with six other seconds and thirds, while accumulating a lifetime bankroll of more than $5.7 million. On the list of memorable geldings, only John Henry, Wise Dan, and Best Pal have won more than Game On Dude.

Career retrospectives are nice, but it is upon his 2013 campaign that Game On Dude must stand or fall when it comes to his chances for an Eclipse Award as champion older male. Racing for the partnership of Bernie Schiappa, Joe Torre, Ernie Moody, and the estate of Terry Lanni, Game On Dude started six times and won five, including the three most important races during the regular Southern California season.

With Mike Smith now firmly in the saddle, Game On Dude kicked off 2013 with a 6 1/2-length yawner over three rivals in the San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita in February. He broke more of a sweat cleaning his feed tube that night, but it was just the kind of race trainer Bob Baffert had in mind to have Game On Dude at his best for his next test, the Santa Anita Handicap. And it was a smasher. He won by a race record 7 3/4 lengths over a field that included defending champ Ron the Greek.

The point of owning a top-class gelding is to go where the money is piled highest. In that sensible spirit, Game On Dude made his next start for a $1.5 million purse in the Charles Town Classic in West Virginia. Sliding around the bullring’s turns, Game On Dude had class enough to win by three-quarters of a length.

Next up was the Hollywood Gold Cup, a race Game On Dude had won before. This time he had to answer the challenge of the handicap weight spread and did so in style, giving the accomplished stakes horse Kettle Corn 11 pounds and beating him a length.

The high point of Game On Dude’s season came at Del Mar in the million-dollar Pacific Classic, in which he was to meet Dullahan, the colt who beat him in a thriller there in 2012. But Game On Dude made it no contest, winning by 8 1/2 lengths.

Game On Dude might have ended the 2013 campaign on the same blue note as 2012, with a sub-par effort when the chips were down in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park. Instead, he came right back to run his race in the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs, only to be caught in the final yards by the upwardly mobile 3-year-old Will Take Charge. Best of all, Game On Dude should be back again as a 7-year-old in 2014.