04/17/2014 1:00PM

Game On Dude better equipped for Charles Town Classic repeat

Coady Photography
Game On Dude, exercising Thursday at Charles Town, will wear shoes with toe grips to gain better traction rather than the glue-on plastic shoes he wore in last year's Charles Town Classic.

Game On Dude came into last year’s Charles Town Classic riding a three-race winning streak, capped by a dominating 7 3/4-length victory in the Santa Anita Handicap in which he earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 117.

So, it was somewhat surprising when he had to work as hard as he did to win the Charles Town Classic by a half-length over Clubhouse Ride.

Afterward, trainer Bob Baffert noted that Game On Dude had run the Charles Town Classic in glue-on shoes that don’t have toe grabs, which provide for better traction. On Saturday, when Game On Dude runs in the Charles Town Classic for the third time – he was second in 2011 – he will have regular shoes as he attempts to become not only a repeat winner of this lucrative race but just the 15th Thoroughbred – and the first gelding – to surpass the $7 million mark in earnings.

[Charles Town Classic: Get PPs, watch Saturday's card live]

“I think he’s better now than he was this time last year for this race,” Baffert said. “He looks really good.”

Game On Dude certainly looked really good in winning the Santa Anita Handicap for a third time last month. That victory snapped a three-race losing streak that included a fifth-place finish in the San Antonio Handicap as the 1-5 favorite.

“I used that as a prep race, and I thought he was tighter than I had him,” Baffert said. “I knew we had him right for the Big Cap.”

A victory in the Charles Town Classic, run at 1 1/8 miles around three turns, would push Game On Dude’s career earnings to $7,163,893, putting him past Silver Charm on the all-time earnings list and ahead of John Henry ($6,591,860) among geldings.

Baffert didn’t want to talk about that, opting instead to focus on the race itself.

“It’s a big race; we take it very seriously,” he said. “We’re coming in there ready to roll.”

Mike Smith will ride Game On Dude, whose ownership group includes Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Joe Torre, Bernie Schiappa, Mercedes Stable, and Lanni Family Trust.

Last year, Game On Dude had to battle with Percussion for the early lead. On Saturday, the other primary speed in the race looks to be Moreno, last year’s runner-up to Will Take Charge in both the Travers and Pennsylvania Derby.

Moreno was scratched from last weekend’s Oaklawn Handicap after being treated for a fever he contracted after shipping from California. Moreno has since gone to Keeneland for a workout and then shipped to West Virginia on Tuesday.

Eric Guillot, the trainer of Moreno, said he doesn’t believe his horse has to be on the lead, and he will leave race tactics to jockey Joel Rosario. This will be Moreno’s first start since finishing 10th in November’s Breeders’ Cup Classic.

“I don’t think [fitness] will be a big issue,” Guillot said. “He has a pretty good work tab. If anything, he might run big because he’s fresh.”

Long River, a son of Grade 1 winners A.P. Indy and Round Pond, had a three-race winning streak snapped when he was beaten by Godolphin Racing stablemate Romansh in the Grade 3 Discovery at Aqueduct after Long River put a head in front in midstretch.

Kiaran McLaughlin, who trains Long River, said jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. told him the horse “pulled himself up. It’s hard to know that. Maybe the other horse was very game coming back. We’re happy have to have Irad ride him, knowing you got to time it just right.”

A year ago, Clubhouse Ride finished second to Game On Dude in three consecutive races – the San Antonio, Santa Anita Handicap, and this race. Clubhouse Ride has taken a different path to the Charles Town Classic this year, owing to a foot issue that forced trainer Craig Lewis to start later than he had planned.

“We’ve been playing catch-up, but he’s pretty fit and ready to go,” Lewis said. “We think he’s a pretty good horse, always tries, and for that money, you got to take a whack at it.”

Local fans will be rooting for Lucy’s Bob Boy, who has run all but two of his races at Charles Town, where he is 17-3-0 from 21 starts. Last year, Lucy’s Bob Boy had a serious foot issue that prompted his connections to bypass the Classic and run instead in the Confucius Say Stakes, which he won easily.

This year, though, owner Michael Furr and trainer Sandra Dono are game to take a shot.

“This year his feet are better. We’re right here in our backyard. Where’s a better spot to take a shot?” Dono said.

Imperative, second in the San Antonio but seventh in the Big Cap, and Ruler of Love, second in last year’s West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer, complete the field.

The Classic will go as race 12 [10:30 p.m. Eastern] on a 14-race card that begins at 5 p.m. It will be the last leg of an all-stakes pick four with a guaranteed pool of $100,000.