06/02/2012 8:30PM

Hollywood Park: Game On Dude dominates Californian

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Chantal Sutherland enjoys the ride aboard Game On Dude in the Grade 2 Californian.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Game On Dude was tipping his readiness for his first start since March with his recent workouts.

What trainer Bob Baffert could not have envisioned was that Game On Dude would win Saturday’s $150,000 Californian Stakes by 7 1/4 lengths at Betfair Hollywood Park in his first start in more than two months.

“I knew he’d run well, but I didn’t think I’d see that,” Baffert said.

Baffert’s confidence rose after Game On Dude worked seven furlongs in 1:24 at Santa Anita on May 27. The trainer opted for a start in the Grade 2 Californian instead of working Game On Dude through June, toward a start in $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup on July 7.

“I thought, I’ll work him for $150,000,” Baffert said.

The Californian was Game On Dude’s first start since a disappointing 12th in the Dubai World Cup on March 31, and his second stakes win of 2012. The runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs last fall, Game On Dude won the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita in February.

Ridden in the Californian by regular rider Chantal Sutherland, Game On Dude ($4) led throughout the Grade 2 Californian, holding a one-length advantage on the backstretch over Morning Line. The lead was 1 1/2 lengths at the end of the backstretch, and widened on the turn to be six lengths at the eighth pole. Game On Dude ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.01.

“Bob said to get him into his groove,” Sutherland said. “I let him do his thing.”

On the backstretch, Sutherland said. “I didn’t move a muscle. I don’t know if I took a breath. He relaxed and he just took off.”

Kettle Corn, the winner of the Grade 3 Native Diver Handicap here last December, closed from fourth to finish second, a half-length in front of the Baffert-trainer Prayer for Relief. Morning Line, the winner of the Grade 3 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap last month, faded to finish last, a performance that stunned jockey Joe Talamo.

“It really surprised me,” Talamo said.

“That’s a nice horse,” he said of the winner. “Every time I got to him, she let out a notch.”

The first two finishers are expected to return in the Hollywood Gold Cup.

Game On Dude’s victory was worth $90,000. A 5-year-old gelding by Awesome Again, Game On Dude has won 7 of 17 starts and $2,344,658 for owners Bernie Schiappa, the Lanni Family Trust, Mercedes Stable, and Joe Torre, the former manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers.