03/10/2010 12:00AM

Game On Dude trying the big time


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Game On Dude will enter the March 20 Florida Derby with only two starts under his belt, but what he lacks in experience, he more than makes up in talent, said his trainer, Michael Mareina.

Game On Dude finished second, beaten less than a length, in one of the fastest maiden special weight races of the meet on Jan. 23, then returned five weeks later to dominate similar opposition going a mile despite trouble leaving the gate. Those performances have given Mareina the confidence to test the promising colt against leading Kentucky Derby candidate Eskendereya in the Grade 1 Florida Derby.

"It might be a little ambitious, but he won the other day despite having his head turned and hopping at the start, and he ran a 5 on the sheets," said Mareina who is stabled here regularly for the first time this winter. Mareina said that jockey Jeremy Rose "schooled him, let him eat a little dirt, but never really let him run in that race."

Game On Dude is by Awesome Again, out of the stakes-winning Devil His Due mare Worldly Pleasure. Mareina purchased the colt privately last fall for $240,000 from Frank Stronach's Adena Springs in the interests of the Kuehne Racing Stable.

"He never showed any speed in his early works, but once we got down here and I started hooking him up in the morning with some of my quicker horses, he really started jumping into the bit and wanted to roll," said Mareina. "To be honest, I basically put him in his first race going seven furlongs to school him to go a mile, and he just towed Jeremy right up there, pressed a smoking-fast pace, and was closing on the winner at the end. Right then and there I started thinking I might have something interesting, because I knew all along what he really wanted was two turns."

Game On Dude worked a bullet half-mile in 47 seconds here Tuesday and is scheduled to have his final Florida Derby prep on Monday.

"We'll see how he goes in his next work and take it from there, but at the moment we're pointing for the Florida Derby," said Mareina. "I've also got him nominated for the Arkansas Derby, so if he were to run super here and we wanted to pursue the Kentucky Derby, it would give us another shot three weeks later for some more graded earnings."

At the moment, it appears the Florida Derby is coming up light, with only five other 3-year-olds confirmed for the race besides Eskendereya and Game On Dude. They are Radiohead, Pulsion, Ice Box, First Dude. and Pleasant Prince, according to Gulfstream's racing secretary, Dan Bork.

Gulfstream Park Handicap crowded

Saturday's $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap, on the other hand, drew an evenly matched field of 11 older horses topped by Grasshopper, This Ones for Phil, Harlem Rocker, and Cool Coal Man.

This Ones for Phil, who opened his 2010 campaign with a nose decision over Peshito the Che in the Sunshine Millions Sprint, has won 3 of his 4 starts over the Gulfstream Park strip. His lone setback here came last winter from the outside post when he set a torrid pace before finishing a tiring fifth behind Quality Road in the Fountain of Youth.

"He didn't belong on the lead in that race last year," trainer Rick Dutrow said. "Speed and the rail were dead that day. But I'm pretty confident he's going to run a big race on Saturday."

Grasshopper will share high weight of 118 pounds in the Gulfstream Park Handicap with Cool Coal Man. Grasshopper is coming off an allowance win in his first start in more than nine months. Cool Coal Man defeated similar allowance company going seven furlongs on Jan. 22 for his fourth victory in five local starts.

The remainder of the field consists of Congressional Page, Past the Point, Le Grand Cru, Motovato, Inkado, You and I Forever, and a California invader, Supreme Summit.

Casanova Move returning

Casanova Move will return to the races for the first time since her distant third-place finish behind Careless Jewel in the Grade 1 Alabama on Aug. 22 when she starts under second-level allowance conditions in Saturday's fourth race. Casanova Move finished second here a year ago behind Justwhistledixie in both the Grade 2 Davona Dale and Grade 2 Bonnie Miss for trainer Jimmy Jerkens. She was transferred to trainer Todd Pletcher's barn shortly after her third-place finish in the Grade 1 Acorn later that spring.