Updated on 08/25/2013 4:45PM

Del Mar: Game On Dude holds key to Pacific Classic

Shigeki Kikkawa
Game On Dude tries for a third time to win the Grade 1, $1 million Pacific Classic on Sunday.

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DEL MAR, Calif. – Game On Dude is the best horse in the Pacific Classic. But he is not racing on his best surface.

The way Del Mar’s richest race of the season falls on Sunday centers on Game On Dude. If he runs to what he is capable of doing at his absolute best, he will win. If Polytrack again proves his Kryptonite, he will not.

Along with the $1 million purse, that is the reason 11 others are entered to face Game On Dude in the Grade 1, 1 1/4-mile Pacific Classic, the highlight of a sensational 11-race card Sunday at Del Mar. The field was reduced by one on Saturday when Liaison was scratched.

Game On Dude has won five straight races, beating fields of four, three, eight, five, and four rivals. In four of those races, he was no higher than 30 cents on the dollar. On Sunday, betting opens with Game On Dude as the 5-2 choice on the line of Del Mar’s Russell Hudak.

Why the doubt? His trainer, Bob Baffert, knows.

“The synthetic track, that’s why,” Baffert said. “It can be a crapshoot. It’s a million-dollar race. Everyone thinks they can win it.

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“It’s a big field, and Polytrack, so you never know. But we’ve got the best horse.”

Game On Dude has won 14 of 26 starts, but has lost his lone two starts at Del Mar, which came in the past two runnings of the Pacific Classic. He was fourth in 2011, then second last year to Dullahan, who is back to defend his title. This year, though, the Polytrack surface has been tighter than in year’s past, and Game On Dude has trained better over the surface than he did in 2011 and 2012.

But Game On Dude can be a tricky horse to ride. Mike Smith was a quick study, winning five straight on Game On Dude. But a conflict with Royal Delta finds Smith at Saratoga on Sunday. Joel Rosario was originally scheduled to be the replacement on Game On Dude, but a broken foot suffered Friday at Saratoga will keep Rosario out of action for six weeks. On Saturday, Martin Garcia was named as his replacement, his availability owing to his original mount, Liaison, being scratched.

Garcia, familiar with Game On Dude because he often works him, will have three essential tasks the first half-mile of the race. Game On Dude can get anxious in the starting gate, so a clean break is essential. Garcia needs to keep Game On Dude in the clear, and has a head start on that assignment by starting from post 10 of 12 with the scratch of Liaison. And Game On Dude is prone to get headstrong when turning into the backstretch – he does it in his races and his works – so Garcia has to make sure Game On Dude doesn’t leave his race well before the wire.

Game On Dude has given significant amounts of weight to his opponents in recent races, so he benefits mightily by the weight-for-age conditions of the Pacific Classic. All carry 124 pounds except for the filly Byrama, who gets in with 119.

Dullahan owns three Grade 1 victories, all on Polytrack, with one here and two at Keeneland. As with last year, he comes into the race off a series of subpar performances. But he is back on his favorite footing, a stark contrast to Game On Dude.

Richard’s Kid also loves Del Mar, having won the Pacific Classic twice. He is 4 for 7 on this surface and has never been out of the money. Though the senior citizen of the field at age 8, Richard’s Kid showed there was life in those old bones with a victory in the Cougar II last time out.

“He’s doing good,” trainer Doug O’Neill said. “He seems like a happy horse.”

Two synthetic specialists have shipped in for the race: Delegation from Canada and Farraaj from Great Britain.

Delegation has five wins in six starts on Polytrack at Woodbine, where he comes off a front-running, 9 1/4-length victory in the Dominion Day on July 1.

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Farraaj has won both his synthetic starts, though at Lingfield against inferior competition to what he will face Sunday.

John Sadler, the leading trainer this summer at Del Mar, doubles up with Kettle Corn and You Know I Know.

Kettle Corn won the San Diego Handicap on July 27, three weeks after he was second to Game On Dude in the Hollywood Gold Cup. Those were his first two starts with blinkers.

“He’s really improved with blinkers,” Sadler said. “We got 11 pounds from Game On Dude in the Gold Cup, and now we’re at equal weights, so that’s obviously a concern. But it looks like there’s a good amount of speed in there.”

You Know I Know, a former claimer, beat a second-level allowance field last time out Aug. 3 in his first start on Del Mar’s main track.

“He showed a real affinity for the track, and he worked sensationally on Monday,” Sadler said, referring to a five-furlong drill in 59.60 seconds. “It’s a big jump, but it’s a lot of money, and we feel like if he really likes this track we want to be in there.”

Byrama was a troubled third in the Clement Hirsch against females Aug. 3.

“Obviously it’s a tough task, a filly taking on the boys, but she likes the track, the distance should not be a problem, and it could set up for her,” said Simon Callaghan, who trains Byrama. “There’s quite a bit of speed in the race.”

Turf specialist Jeranimo comes off a win in the Eddie Read on July 20. He was eighth in the 2011 Pacific Classic in his only try on the main track here.

The rest are longshots.

Endorsement, who should be part of the early pace, makes his synthetic debut following a second-place finish on turf to Indy Point in the Wickerr on July 24. Brazilian import Holding Glory was second to You Know I Know in the Aug. 3 allowance in his first start in this country. Blueskiesnrainbows was third to Richard’s Kid in the Cougar II.

Sunday’s card begins an hour earlier than usual, at 1:05 p.m. Pacific. There are two other stakes, both Grade 2. The Pat O’Brien, a $250,000 race for sprinters going seven furlongs, drew 13, including Santa Anita Derby winner Goldencents. The Del Mar Mile, a $200,000 turf race, has a field of five, with defending winner Obviously an overwhelming favorite to repeat.