07/04/2013 1:38PM

Hollywood Park: Game On Dude, Smith tough team in Gold Cup

Shigeki Kikkawa
Game On Dude is unbeaten in four stakes under Mike Smith, and he will be heavily favored to make it five in the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup on Saturday.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Since the partnership began last December, Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith and Game On Dude are unbeaten in four stakes.

The win streak includes such prestigious races as the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap in March and such lucrative races as the $1.5 million Charles Town Classic in West Virginia in April. Game On Dude won the Charles Town Classic by a half-length over California rival Clubhouse Ride.

The circumstances of that victory have left Smith confident that the win streak will be extended in Saturday’s $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup at Betfair Hollywood Park.

[HOLLYWOOD GOLD CUP: Get PPs, watch Saturday's card live]

“His last race was probably his worst race since I’ve been on him,” Smith said in regard to the Charles Town Classic. “He wasn’t getting a hold of the track as well as he normally does. I could feel it right away, and he still won.

“He’s such a war horse. He doesn’t quit until he gets back to the barn. He’s a neat horse. Hopefully, he can get this one and go on to bigger things.”

One bigger thing is the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita in November. Game On Dude has been second and seventh in the last two runnings of that race, losses that have prevented him from being Horse of the Year.

Trained by Bob Baffert for Bernie Schiappa, the Lanni Family Trust, Mercedes Stables, and Joe Torre, Game On Dude is the defending champion of the Gold Cup, which is run over 1 1/4 miles. If he wins Saturday, Game On Dude will be the first repeat winner since Lava Man won the last of his three Gold Cups in 2007.

Game On Dude will be heavily favored against four rivals, including Clubhouse Ride, also second to Game On Dude in the San Antonio Stakes and Big Cap earlier this year. The winner of the Grade 2 Californian Stakes here June 1, Clubhouse Ride has drawn the rail.

Oilisblackgold and Kettle Corn, third and fourth in the Californian, and the Baffert-trained Sky Kingdom, who won the Grade 3 Tokyo City Cup over 1 1/2 miles at Santa Anita on March 23, are the other runners.

Game On Dude is best when racing on or near the lead and is unlikely to face early pressure in the Gold Cup’s small field. That is fine with Smith.

“You want to do what he does best, get him in a comfortable rhythm,” Smith said. “He’s got such a high cruising speed. It’s getting on the lead and setting decent fractions.”

A winner of 13 of 25 starts and $4,702,158, Game On Dude carries high weight of 127 pounds in the Gold Cup. Last year, he carried 124 pounds and won by 1 1/2 lengths over stablemate Richard’s Kid. A sweep of the exacta by Baffert-trained runners is possible again Saturday.

Baffert is confident that Sky Kingdom will run well. A 4-year-old colt by Empire Maker, Sky Kingdom followed his win in the Tokyo City with a dull sixth as the 6-5 favorite in the San Juan Capistrano Handicap over about 1 3/4 miles on turf at Santa Anita on April 21, his most recent start.

“Sky Kingdom is back,” Baffert said. “I ran him back too soon after he won. He’s training like he did before the [Tokyo City]. I expect a big race from him.”

Sky Kingdom, who will be ridden by Martin Garcia, will carry 116 pounds.

Clubhouse Ride, who won his first graded stakes in his 28th career start in the Californian, will carry 119 pounds. Joe Talamo has the mount on Clubhouse Ride, replacing Garrett Gomez, who has not ridden in recent weeks because of personal issues.

Talamo has been aboard Clubhouse Ride three times, but has yet to win on the 5-year-old. The key for Clubhouse Ride on Saturday is to stalk Game On Dude and attempt to wear down the favorite in the stretch, trainer Craig Lewis said.

“I think in the Californian he was pretty keen,” Lewis said of Clubhouse Ride. “Garrett did a masterful job of getting him to settle.”

Even if Clubhouse Ride is patient under Talamo, Lewis knows who his runner is facing Saturday.

“Game On Dude is a tremendous animal,” Lewis said.