11/02/2012 10:32AM

Breeders' Cup Classic: Game On Dude as good as ever

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Barbara D. Livingston
Game On Dude finished second in the Breeders' Cup Classic last year, and his trainer, Bob Baffert, says he's a better horse now.

ARCADIA, Calif. – The late Hall of Fame trainer Woody Stephens marked his territory by warning visitors to Belmont Park in New York that the buildings got awfully tall when one crossed the Hudson River.

There will be a similar hurdle facing almost all of the runners in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Saturday at Santa Anita. Once you cross over the looming San Gabriel Mountains, you’ve entered Baffert Country.

No trainer has won more races at Santa Anita over the past decade than Hall of Famer Bob Baffert. In the past two years, five of those wins have come with Game On Dude, whose perfect record at Santa Anita, terrific current form, and excellent recent workouts make him the acknowledged horse to beat in the 1 1/4-mile Classic, the last and richest of the 15 Breeders’ Cup races to be run at Santa Anita on Friday and Saturday.

Game On Dude was second in the Classic a year ago at Churchill Downs. This year’s model is stronger and faster. Game On Dude has filled out physically, and that has translated into better, more consistent races. He has raced 20 times in his life, but his fastest four races, as measured by Beyer Speed Figures, have been in his last four starts.

“He’s a better horse this time this year than last year,” Baffert said the other morning at Santa Anita.

He will have to be, though, because this Classic has quite a bit of depth. There are 11 signed up to face Game On Dude, including three – Flat Out, Ron the Greek, and To Honor and Serve – trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, who scored an upset in the Classic a year ago with Drosselmeyer. In addition, the field numbers accomplished older horses like Fort Larned, Mucho Macho Man, and Richard’s Kid, Travers winner Alpha, and the rapidly improving Nonios.

“There are a lot of good horses in there,” Baffert said. “If they bring their ‘A’ game, they can win.”

Game On Dude will start from post 5. He usually races on or near the lead, but he is not nearly as headstrong as he was a year ago, when he seemed intent on having the lead at all costs. Rafael Bejarano has taken over as his race rider, and has gotten Game On Dude to relax in the afternoons much like he has relaxed for Bejarano in his morning workouts.

“Bejarano gets along with him really well,” Baffert said. “We’ve been trying to get him to slow down just a tad, without choking him down.”

Flat Out was the beaten favorite in last year’s Classic. Like last year, he comes into this year’s race off a victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. The major question for Flat Out is whether he can reproduce his outstanding Belmont Park form elsewhere.

“I don’t know why not,” Mott said.

“He ran a bang-up up race at Saratoga,” Mott said, referring to a close, third-place finish behind Fort Larned and Ron the Greek in the Whitney. “He ran super. He would have won most races the way he ran that day.”

Ron the Greek shipped west earlier this year and won the Santa Anita Handicap, but he was the beneficiary of a ludicrous pace duel that flattered his late charge.

“We knew where the Breeders’ Cup was going to be this year, so we certainly thought a lot about this race after he won that race,” Mott said.

To Honor and Serve, the Woodward winner in September, was seventh in his only prior try at 1 1/4 miles, in last year’s Classic, in which he was beaten 3 1/2 lengths.

“To Honor and Serve, Flat Out, Havre de Grace, So You Think - they were all within a neck of each other, so that puts him in plenty good company, and now he’s a year older and a little more mature,” Mott said.

Fort Larned followed up his Whitney victory with a third-place finish in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. His trainer, Ian Wilkes, is a disciple of Hall of Famer Carl Nafzger, who is one of the best at pointing successfully for major targets, so it would not be surprising to see Fort Larned run the race of his life on Saturday.

Mucho Macho Man was second last time out to To Honor and Serve in the Woodward after winning the Suburban. His last few starts all have been spaced approximately two months apart.

“He’s really fresh. That’s when he does his best,” said his trainer, Kathy Ritvo.

Richard’s Kid, the subject of a celebrated private sale this past summer that moved him from Baffert to trainer Doug O’Neill, was third to Game On Dude in the Awesome Again five weeks ago over a speed-favoring track that compromised his closing run.

O’Neill also sends out Handsome Mike, the Pennsylvania Derby winner, who has contending early speed and is drawn outside of Game On Dude, so he could be a potential pest early in the race.

Alpha flopped in the Pennsylvania Derby as the odds-on favorite, but dead-heated for a Travers win, and captured the Jim Dandy outright, in his prior two starts.

Nonios was second in the Awesome Again, splitting Game On Dude and Richard’s Kid, and he had a sharp final workout here Tuesday morning.

Pool Play is an intriguing longshot. He has raced 32 times, primarily on synthetics and turf, but he is 2 for 2 on dirt, including a victory last time out in the Hawthorne Gold Cup.

“I think he’s better than ever, better than he was going into the Gold Cup, but he’s going to have to be,” said his trainer, Mark Casse, who has nursed Pool Play back from a 2009 tendon injury.

Brilliant Speed, the winner of the 2011 Blue Grass, is making the final start of his career, and is trying to end winless streaks both this year (0 for 6) and on dirt (0 for 5).

 

Lori Cappelletti More than 1 year ago
so hows that strategy working out for team G.O.D...If it isn't broke don't fix it
Ben van den Brink More than 1 year ago
It worked out differently
Grazyna Mianska More than 1 year ago
Great humor and thread Paul_Tuon. Keep it up!
Slew32A More than 1 year ago
Anyone have the probable payout for the ladies/cup classic double?
Paul_Tuon More than 1 year ago
This year's Classic looks interesting and wide open on paper, but on track it maybe a one-horse race: Game on Dude. I like Game on Dude to win based on it is his home track and he's at the top of his game. If he doesn't win this race, he's heading down hill and his best days are over. However, I think his best day is today and I don't see any horse can beat him on his home course. Let's analyze each horse in the field: To Honor and Serve has his work cut out for him starting from an outside (post position 12); he doesn't have good early speed to gun to the front to avoid being hung wide; and he certainly can't drop back to save ground as he will definitely lose all chance of making an impact in the race. So he'll have to stay close to the outside rail for at least 1/4 of a mile. Jocky John Velasquez knows the dilema he's facing with the post position from the outside. So he tries to ride the best way he could under the circumstances. He knows his chance of winning is very slim and he can feel it when the gate opens. As the whole field approaches the grand stand for the first time, for whatever reasons, no one seems to want the lead and the whole field lines up in a horizontal straight line spreading the horses across the track in a quarter horse-like formation coming down the stretch for the first time, forcing To Honor and Serve to race close to the grand stand side rail scrapping the paint the whole way. As the field gets closer and closer to the finish line for the first time, an awesome smell of an aroma of liquor coming from the grand stand liquor stands intensifies greatly making riders unfocused and can't concentrate on riding the race. Jocky John Velasquez and his horse being pinned down on the grand stand side rail the whole way really got a very good dose of aroma of liquor as they scrape the paint down the stretch. The awesome smell of an aroma of liquor is irresistible for jocky John Velasquez, so he quickly transforms his thoroughbred mount into a steeplechade mount and preparing his mount to jump over the grand stand rail. Moments later when the pair is ready, they made a beautiful and spectacular jump over the grand stand rail, and landing successfully over the other side of the rail with plenty of leg romm to spare. [Watch out Grand National 2013, To Honor and Serve and John Velasquez are a force to be reckoned with comes the Grand National 2013] After landing safely on the other side of the rail, the pair heads straight to the liquor stand and jocky Velasquez grabs a mouthful of liquor to quence his thirst while the rest of the field race on. Flat Out - Not good enough. Alpha - 3yo of 2012 and you know the story Fort Larned - the vet missed the fligh out East due to Huricane Sandy Brilliant Speed - ditto Handsome Mike - the vet over slept from a late night out Nonios - 3yo of 2012 Richard's Kid - the feud between Jill Baffert and new owner is still going on and is bothering RK Ron the Greek - his 15-minute of fame is over Mucho Macho Man - vet got lost coming to the track Pool Play: As the whole field is rounding into the stretch, Pool Play is all alone on the lead, leading by 3 lengths, but seems to be shortening his strides while the whole field goes going after him, with Game on Dude being the most threat to go by him. Pool Play's jocky Miguel Mena sensing trouble tries to ask Pool Play for more with a furious use of whip left and right, but the horse seems to be out of energy. The whip keeps coming and coming left and right. [The horse thinks to himself] I better do something if I'm going to live. The horse keeps trying to gather all energy he has as the whip keeps coming, but seems to be completely out of energy. He glances aroung and sees a man in the infield standing and holding a pitcher of beer with one hand and a cup with the other, pooring beer into the cup. The horse mistakenly seeing the sight of beer pooring into the cup as an electrolyte carbonated milkshake so he quickly jumps over the rails onto the infield and rushes toward the man; and grabs a mouthful of beer, leaving Game on Dude all alone in front all the way to the finsish line and wins. My money is on GOD.
Kevin Smith More than 1 year ago
Man.......what kind of weed do you smoke????? And...........can I have some? lol
Meydan Rocks More than 1 year ago
Dude?!!! What the... The awesome aroma of WHAT???? Velasquez doesn't drink?? I just choked on my bread!!!
Slew32A More than 1 year ago
Wow! really going out on a limb, ain't ya?
Horse Cents More than 1 year ago
You could have just said you like the favorite.
mrm More than 1 year ago
If pool play is on the lead at the top of the stretch he will win easily becausr he is a legit 1 1/4 mile horse.
Todd Elliot More than 1 year ago
paul wrote a book longer than war and peace and ended up broke doing so