07/05/2012 3:12PM

Hollywood Park: Game On Dude the natural choice in Gold Cup

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Game On Dude, with Chantal Sutherland riding, romps in the Californian.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Can a horse win too well?

Game On Dude was vastly superior to three rivals in the Grade 2 Californian Stakes at Betfair Hollywood Park on June 2, winning by 7 1/4 lengths as the pacesetter in his first start since a 12th in the Dubai World Cup in March.

[HOLLYWOOD PARK: Get PPs and watch Saturday’s full card live]

The win has left the 5-year-old gelding the 124-pound topweight for Saturday’s $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup over 1 1/4 miles.

Any concern about how Game On Dude would respond to his return to American racing was answered in the Californian. He has trained well for the Gold Cup over 1 1/4 miles, trainer Bob Baffert said.

“You never know how they’ll react to a big performance, but he looks great,” Baffert said.

Owned by a partnership, Game On Dude can win his third Grade 1 in the last 16 months in the Gold Cup. He won the 2011 Santa Anita Handicap and the Goodwood Stakes last October, but was second to Drosselmeyer in the biggest American race of them all, the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs last November.

In all of his major wins, Game On Dude has led or disputed the pace. He will be a danger from the front on Saturday.

A win in the Gold Cup would solidify Game On Dude’s status as the leading older male in the West. Just don’t expect jockey Chantal Sutherland to do any showing off in the stretch, allowing Game On Dude to pull clear the way he did in the Californian.

“I shouldn’t have made it look that easy,” Sutherland said. “I think he’s getting better.”

Baffert said he was surprised the way that Sutherland finished aboard Game On Dude in the Californian.

“She let him run too much last time,” Baffert said. “She could have throttled him down a little bit.”

The biggest threat to Game On Dude’s chances for a win is Richard’s Kid, who is also trained by Baffert.

A 7-year-old horse, Richard’s Kid won such races as the 2009 and 2010 Pacific Classic and 2010 Goodwood Stakes for Baffert before being sent to Dubai in late 2010 by owner Sheikh Rashid bin Mohammed al Maktoum.

Richard’s Kid was winless in five starts in Dubai, but won his return to American racing in the minor Prove It Stakes over 1 3/8 miles here on June 8.

“When I got him from Dubai, he was in very good shape,” Baffert said.

“It’s like having a fresh Richard’s Kid.

“He loves synthetics. He’s going to move forward off that. He loves this track and he’ll be tough. Him and Game On Dude are good horses.”

The Gold Cup drew a field of seven. A win by a horse not trained by Baffert would be an upset.

The only other 2012 stakes winner in the field is Love Theway Youare, a 4-year-old filly trained by owner Myung Kwon Cho who won the Grade 1 Vanity Handicap here in an 18-1 upset on June 16.

Kettle Corn was second to Game On Dude in the Californian, and won the Grade 3 Native Diver Handicap over 1 1/8 miles here last December.

The outsiders are the stakes winners Anthony’s Cross and Thirtyfirst street and the stakes-placed Spud Spivens. A top three finish by those runners would be considered a success.