04/20/2013 10:41PM

Charles Town Classic: Game On Dude refuses to lose

Coady Photography
Despite having trouble getting a good grip of the track, Game On Dude, under Mike Smith, manages to hold off Clubhouse Ride by a half-length in the Charles Town Classic.

CHARLES TOWN, W. Va. - Mike Smith wasn’t concerned when longshot Percussion outbroke him and Game On Dude in Saturday night’s $1.5 million Charles Town Classic.

 He had other concerns.

“My main concern was he was slipping a lot,” Smith said. “I slipped leaving there. I slipped in the first turn. I slipped in the middle of the turn, but he just wouldn’t stop.”

Despite slipping all over the place, Game On Dude held off his California-based rival Clubhouse Ride and Ron the Greek to win the Charles Town Classic by one-half length, earning the $1 million first-place purse that went to the winner.

 Clubhouse Ride, who finished second to Game On Dude in the Grade 2 San Antonio and Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap, was second by a nose over Ron the Greek. It was 7 1/2 lengths back to Percussion, who was followed in the order of finish by Caixa Eletronica and Isn’t He Perfect. Mordi’s Miracle scratched.

 The win was the fourth straight and 13th from 25 career starts for Game On Dude, a 6-year-old gelding by Awesome Again. He has now earned $4,702,158.

“I’m a lot more relieved,” Baffert said from Southern California, where he watched the race. “That was tough to watch.”

 Baffert did provide a reason why Game On Dude may have been slipping early. Baffert said he changed shoes to plastic shoes with no toe grabs, owing to the fact Game On Dude had lost a shoe in his 7 3/4-length victory in the Santa Anita Handicap on March 2.

 “I’m running him in plastic shoes without a toe grab,” Baffert said. “I’m letting his foot grow out.”

 Speed had been dominant all night at Charles Town and many figured Game On Dude was the primary speed of the race after Mordi’s Miracle scratched.

 But it was obvious that trainer Todd Pletcher’s instructions to Kendrick Carmouche was to get Percussion to the early lead. Pletcher was also running Caixa Eletronica, last year’s Charles Town Classic winner, who would benefit from a contested pace.

 Though it looked like the pace was swift, the fractions posted on the board were 25.96 seconds for the quarter, and 49.37 for the half. Smith had Game On Dude just outside of Percussion.

 Down the backside, Game On Dude went to challenge for the lead, but Percussion was asked to keep up with him. Entering the far turn, Game On Dude did take command and opened up by about a length leaving the quarter pole.

 Smith had to keep after Game On Dude - he smacked him twice left-handed - in the stretch and he was able to fend off Clubhouse Ride.

 Game On Dude covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:52.27 and returned $2.60 as the 1-5 favorite.

 “Bob’s horses can run getting hooked or even if a horse outruns him a little bit because he works them every time like that,” Smith said.

 While Baffert wasn’t in attendance, his owners, including former Yankees manager Joe Torre and Bernie Schiappa, were present.

Torre, who wasn’t at Game On Dude’s easy Santa Anita Handicap score, said “my heart was pumping just about the same” as when he managed in the World Series.

 “When he came around the top of the stretch, it looked like he was working really hard,” Torre said. “Mike said he didn’t like the track. He said he was slipping all over the place, but his heart got him there.”

 Baffert said Game On Dude would return to Southern California and campaign there the remainder of the year leading up to the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita in November.