06/26/2014 11:52AM

Game On Dude seeks Gold Cup score at new venue

Coady Photography
Game On Dude, winner of the Hollywood Gold Cup twice at the old Hollywood Park, will go for the win in the Gold Cup at its new Santa Anita Park home.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Dismiss his failures in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in recent years, and Game On Dude’s career achievements stand out as those of a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

The 7-year-old gelding has won 14 stakes in a 32-race career highlighted by three wins in the Santa Anita Handicap in 2011, 2013, and this year and two wins in the Hollywood Gold Cup in 2012-13.

Officially, the Hollywood Gold Cup is gone, lost when Hollywood Park closed last December. When Santa Anita launched a spring-summer meeting this year, it erased the word “Hollywood” from the title of leading stakes. On Saturday, Game On Dude will be favored to win the rechristened $500,000 Gold Cup at Santa Anita.

For a horse with such a lofty reputation, the task will not be easy.

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Game On Dude has drawn the rail in a field of seven, which could be reduced to six if Lideris is rerouted to Sunday’s San Juan Capistrano Handicap on turf. Game On Dude has won three of four career starts from the rail but could face early pressure Saturday from Fury Kapcori in post 2.

The presence of those two side-by-side could lead to a speed duel in the Gold Cup, run over 1 1/4 miles.

Game On Dude is best when allowed to dispute the pace, a tactic Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert will not alter.

“The thing about Dude is we won’t change his style,” Baffert said. “He’ll be on the lead anyway.”

The Gold Cup is the eighth race on a 10-race program that includes three other stakes – the $300,000 Triple Bend Stakes for sprinters, the $200,000 Royal Heroine Stakes over a mile on turf for fillies and mares, and the $100,000 Senorita Stakes for 3-year-old fillies over a mile on turf.

The winner of the Gold Cup receives a fees-paid berth to the BC Classic here Nov. 1 as part of the BC Win and You’re In program.

Game On Dude is the finest older horse Baffert has trained, but losses have outnumbered wins in the last eight months.

Owned by Bernie Schiappa, Joe Torre, Debbie Lanni, and Mercedes Stable, Game On Dude was the 8-5 favorite in the BC Classic here last November but could only finish ninth, his third consecutive loss in that race.

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Since then, Game On Dude has one win in four starts – the Santa Anita Handicap in March. Game On Dude was second in the $1.5 million Charles Town Classic in West Virginia on April 19 to Imperative, another runner in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita.

Despite the setbacks, Baffert insisted that Game On Dude remains on top of his game.

“He looks good, and he’s doing well,” Baffert said. “I don’t see any signs that he’s taken a step back. When he shows me he is tailing off, he won’t run.”

The Gold Cup may develop into a riders’ race. Mike Smith will ride Game On Dude for the 10th time in the gelding’s last 11 starts. He was aboard for two wins in the Santa Anita Handicap and the 2013 Gold Cup.

Gary Stevens rides Fury Kapcori for the first time. Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, the 4-year-old colt won two stakes at Santa Anita this year but was second by a half-length to Gold Cup hopeful Clubhouse Ride in the Grade 2 Californian Stakes over 1 1/8 miles on May 31. Fury Kapcori was involved in a tough speed duel in that race and yielded the lead in the final furlong under jockey Corey Nakatani.

Stevens might have Fury Kapcori on the lead, which has been a successful tactic in two-turn races at Santa Anita of late.

“It seems like he’s coming into it perfect,” said Dan Ward, Hollendorfer’s assistant. “Speed is double dangerous.”

How those two Hall of Fame riders play the first half of the Gold Cup will determine whether stalkers such as Imperative or closers such as Clubhouse Ride or Majestic Harbor, who was third in the Californian, play a meaningful role in the stretch. The field also includes the South American import Salto Del Indio, a longshot.

If the pace is hot, Clubhouse Ride could win the biggest race of his career. Trainer Craig Lewis has studied the scenarios, focusing on Smith and Stevens.

“It’s tough to predict what they will do,” Lewis said. “One might let the other go, which could make for a comfortable lead.”

Clubhouse Ride was fourth in the 2013 Hollywood Gold Cup, but Lewis insisted that a better result is likely this year from the 6-year-old.

“He doesn’t have to be that far back,” Lewis said. “He is not a plodder type. I’d prefer to take him back and make a big run.”

Clubhouse Ride has finished behind Game On Dude in four stakes in previous meetings. The job of reversing that trend will not be easy Saturday.