08/23/2011 3:52PM

Del Mar: Game On Dude's owner has become Baffert's right-hand man

Barbara D. Livingston
Game On Dude is the latest successful racehorse for owner Bernie Schiappa.

DEL MAR, Calif. – With trainer Bob Baffert away at Saratoga on Tuesday to watch Coil prep for the Travers Stakes, he entrusted his loyal, right-hand man to oversee the final workout here at Del Mar for Game On Dude for the Grade 1, $1 million Pacific Classic on Sunday.

Sure, former assistant Tim Yakteen was the one manning the walkie-talkie while Game On Dude flew through five furlongs in 59.20 seconds, but it was Game On Dude’s co-owner, Bernie Schiappa, who was on the phone with Baffert, relaying fractions and impressions as the work unfolded.

“I’m training his horses. He’s my assistant,” Schiappa said, laughing.

In recent years, Schiappa has emerged as Baffert’s confidante and caddie. For years it was Mike Pegram, and then George Jacobs, and while those two are still part of Baffert’s entourage, it is Schiappa who has the highest current profile, often traveling on trips with Baffert in addition to hanging out at the barn, watching workouts, and engaging in spicy, often X-rated repartee.

Schiappa, 66, retired a few years ago from a successful career as a Mercedes-Benz dealer, and, after living in Las Vegas for 30 years, now resides just a few furlongs from Del Mar. He owns eight horses in partnership, the most successful now being Game On Dude, but he has had great success over the years, with Grade 1 winners like Sinister Minister, who won the Blue Grass Stakes, and Silic, who won the Breeders’ Cup Mile.

“My favorite horse, though, was Ladies’ Din,” Schiappa said Tuesday morning, referring to a horse whom he claimed and then went on to win major races like the Shoemaker Mile, Eddie Read, and Del Mar Derby.

Schiappa grew up in Plainfield, N.J., and was first interested in harness racing.

“I had horses with Herve Filion. He was the man,” Schiappa said. “There’s still nobody who could drive as good as he could.”

Fifteen years ago, Schiappa got into Thoroughbred ownership with Mike Sloan and Terry Lanni, the casino executive who died earlier this year. Lanni’s widow, Debbie, remains a partner with Schiappa in Game On Dude, along with former baseball manager Joe Torre – who races as Diamond Pride LLC – and Ernie Moody’s Mercedes Stable.

Game On Dude’s work on Tuesday, on a cool, overcast morning, was the fastest of 17 at the distance. He broke off several lengths behind stablemate El Martillo, got within a half-length of him at the wire, and went out strongly. Yakteen had Game On Dude finishing his final three furlongs in 35 seconds flat, then had him going out an extra furlong in 13.20 seconds. Rafael Bejarano was aboard for the work, but Chantal Sutherland has the mount on Sunday.

“I am excited,” Schiappa said of the Pacific Classic.

Game On Dude won the Santa Anita Handicap earlier this year, surviving a lengthy inquiry. In his most recent start, he lost a heartbreaker to the now-retired First Dude in the Hollywood Gold Cup.

Also working Tuesday for the Pacific Classic was Setsuko, who went five furlongs in 1:01 for trainer Richard Mandella.

The Pacific Classic is a Win and You’re In race for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, awarding the winner a fees-paid spot in the BC Classic.

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