Updated on 03/12/2014 10:01AM

Game On Dude blazes to third Santa Anita Handicap victory

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Benoit & Associates
Game On Dude, with Mike Smith riding, pulls away from Will Take Charge for a 1 3/4-length victory in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap.

ARCADIA, Calif. –  Game On Dude had a one-length lead over Will Take Charge on the turn of Saturday’s $750,750 Santa Anita Handicap when jockey Mike Smith sensed  he was on the verge of Santa Anita racing history.

Game On Dude, winless since last August, was running his sort of race in the Big Cap – on the lead, running comfortably, and ready for the stretch.

“He went around the turn like a rat in a barrel,” Smith said. “I said, ‘They’ll have to run to catch him.’ ”

Game On Dude ran, but no one caught him. The victory gave Game On Dude a record third win in the 77-year history of the Santa Anita Handicap. A 7-year-old gelding, Game On Dude won the Big Cap in 2011 and 2013. He did not start in the 2012 race.

Game On Dude was not expected to win on Saturday.

Game On Dude was overshadowed by the presence of Mucho Macho Man and Will Take Charge, the first two finishers of the Breeders’ Cup Classic here last November.

Game On Dude was the 8-5 favorite in the BC Classic, but faded from contention and finished ninth. He was later second to Will Take Charge in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs last November, and fifth as the 1-5  favorite in the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes here on Feb. 8, fading after fighting through an early speed duel.

Those losses left Game On Dude as a 7-2 shot behind 6-5 favorite Mucho Macho Man and 3-2 Will Take Charge in the Big Cap.

When Game On Dude was allowed to run on his own while leading around the first turn and on the backstretch, Smith said he thought he was on the winner.

“I knew those horses would be coming for me,” Smith said. “When he runs his A-plus race, he can run with anyone in the world.”

Game On Dude led by a length with a half-mile remaining, an advantage extended to 1 1/2 lengths in the stretch. Will Take Charge posed a threat in the stretch but finished second, 1 3/4 lengths behind the winner. Blingo, the winner of the San Antonio Stakes last month, finished third as a 22-1 outsider.

Mucho Macho Man was fourth, beaten 10 1/2 lengths, and was followed by Hear the Ghost, Rousing Sermon, Imperative, and American Blend.

Game On Dude ($9.60) ran 1 1/4 miles in stakes-record time of 1:58.17 on a track that played fast throughout Saturday’s 11-race card, witnessed by an on-track crowd of 27,121. The track record for the distance of 1:57.80 was set by Spectacular Bid in the 1980 Strub Stakes, when the race was run over 1 1/4 miles.

Game On Dude gave Baffert his fifth career win in the Big Cap. He won the 2000 running with General Challenge and with Misremembered in 2010. Game On Dude is at the top of Baffert’s personal list of Big Cap winners.

“I’m glad he had a chance to strut his stuff,” Baffert said.

Baffert watched Game On Dude set a quick early pace of 22.91 and 45.39 seconds and feared a repeat of the BC Classic when Game On Dude faded.

“I was hoping when they came to him it wouldn’t be like the Breeders’ Cup, but he didn’t pack it in,” Baffert said.

As impressive as Game On Dude was in the Big Cap, Mucho Macho Man ran a disappointing race. Ridden by Gary Stevens, Mucho Macho Man was second on the backstretch, but could not sustain the threat and faded from contention on the turn.

Stevens was concerned about Mucho Macho Man’s chances at the end of the backstretch when challenged by Luis Saez on Will Take Charge.

“I was pretty much done at the three-eighths pole,” Stevens said. “I knew I wasn’t running for the win. I was trying to stay third.”

Trainer Kathy Ritvo said the result “will take time to figure out. I’ll watch it again.

Mucho Macho Man lost third by three-quarters of a length when Blingo rallied from seventh in the final half-mile. The Big Cap was Blingo’s first start in a Grade 1 since a sixth place behind Liaison in the CashCall Futurity in December  2011.

Trainer John Shirreffs said Saturday’s third-place finish by Blingo met expectations.

“Being realistic, I think so,” he said. “I think it was pretty good.”

Will Take Charge, the champion 3-year-old male of 2013, ran a winning race in defeat.

“He ran so hard,” jockey Luis Saez said. “He was in good position all the way. “At the half-mile pole, I saw Game On Dude going so comfortably.”

Game On Dude races for Mercedes Stable, Debbie Lanni, Bernie Schiappa, and Joe Torre. The gelding has won 16 of 31 starts.

Game On Dude became a six-million dollar horse – with earnings of $6,163,893 – with the winner’s share of $450,000 of the purse. He also did something that no horse has done in winning the track’s historic race for older horses.