05/31/2012 2:06PM

Hollywood Park: Older male division leadership up for grabs in Californian Stakes

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Game On Dude hasn’t started since finishing a disappointing 12th in the Dubai World Cup.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – The $150,000 Californian Stakes at Betfair Hollywood Park on Saturday is essentially a race for leadership of the circuit’s older male division.

Going into the race, it is a vacant position.

Game On Dude won the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita in February, but was 12th in Dubai World Cup in March. The Californian Stakes over 1 1/8 miles is his first start since that race.

Since then, Morning Line, a Grade 1 stakes winner in New York last year, won his California debut in the Grade 2 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap over 1 1/16 miles here May 5. He won by a half-length over Prayer for Relief, a three-time stakes winner last year who is part of the Californian field.

Those three are joined in the Californian by wintertime stakes winner Kettle Corn (Grade 3 Native Diver Handicap here in December) and Uh Oh Bango (Grade 2 San Pasqual Handicap in January).

The Californian is the last prep before the $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup on July 7.

Game On Dude is likely to go favored in the Californian. The runner-up to Drosselmeyer in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs, Game On Dude is expected to have the lead in the Californian. The 5-year-old gelding starts from the rail in the field of five.

“If he wants to be close, that’s great,” said Chantal Sutherland, his regular rider. “I’ll let him find his rhythm.”

In the Dubai World Cup, Game On Dude raced in the middle of the 13-horse field for the first mile, made a bid toward the leaders with three furlongs remaining, and faded through the stretch.

“He tried to make a good move, and I thought he’d do it,” she said.

Sutherland thought the warm conditions in Dubai worked against Game On Dude.

Bob Baffert trains Game On Dude and Prayer for Relief.

Prayer for Relief has lost his last six starts, but left Baffert encouraged by the Mervyn Leroy.

“He’ s rounding into form,” Baffert said.

Morning Line was being readied for his 2012 campaign in March. In the Grade 2 Mervyn LeRoy over 1 1/16 miles, the sometimes temperamental 5-year-old horse was stubborn before the start, but then led throughout for his first stakes win since the Grade 1 Carter Handicap at Aqueduct in April 2011.

Morning Line’s last win over 1 1/8 miles was the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby in 2010.

“He acts like he’ll go all day,” trainer John Shirreffs said. “Any horse than can run a mile and a sixteenth like that off a layoff can go a mile and an eighth.”

The presence of an expected front-runner such as Game On Dude does not concern Shirreffs.

“Morning Line is comfortable off the pace,” he said. “He doesn’t need the lead.”

Shirreffs said the Californian can move Morning Line one race closer to a start in the Gold Cup.

“That was the reason to go in Mervyn Leroy,” he said. “It’s steps. You have to have a good strong foundation.”

Jade Sword More than 1 year ago
I'm tossing out Prayer for Relief. The rest is very close, with much depending on whether or not speed duel between Game On Dude and Morning Line manifests. Too close to call, but I may put a little on Kettle Corn.
Grass Is Greener More than 1 year ago
Game on Dude all the way. Morning Line is the poster child of bounce theorists. Always digressed the next time out after he won a graded stakes, especially after establishing or matching a career Beyer top.
Mick More than 1 year ago
I think I'm leaning toward Morning Line, picked him in the Mervyn LeRoy, couldn't believe he was over 5-1 there. However I do like both Prayer for Relief and Game on Dude a lot, and Kettle Corn and Uh Oh Bango aren't slouches. Short field, however a very talented, quality field.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sorry, but quality in California is relative. It's better than it was, but has a long way to go to catch up to racing elsewhere.
Alex Martinez More than 1 year ago
You're right, because I'll Have Another and Bodemeister are slouches and that's why they finished 1-2 in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. And Secret Circle totally sucks, I mean, he's only won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint, Southwest and Rebel Stakes. And Contested is SO SLOW, the fact she whipped everyone in the Acorn was a fluke. And that Lookin At Lucky horse was terrible because he didn't win Horse of the Year and had to settle for 2 Year Old and 3 Year Old Champion. And that Zenyatta horse, wow, she was horrible, I mean, she couldn't even win her last race in her career! Didn't Dakota Phone take down everyone in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile at Churchill Downs as the longest shot on the board? Another terrible West Coast horse. I mean after all we only have 1 major circuit out here compared to the 4-5 on the East Coast. Yeah, West Coast horses are SO behind.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I would rather see a good quality 5 horse field like this than a bunch of pretenders trying to catch a dream. All 5 starters are quality runners so whoever wins this race will go to the head of the class out west. In a small field there is less chance for any bumping or fouling by the group. Morning line was one of the best runners back east and looked great in his first start this year.
B More than 1 year ago
Leader of the older male division in California maybe, but there's better out there than this bunch.
Jordan More than 1 year ago
No question the stength, particularly as it concerns depth, of the older male division is in the East. But a big equalizer is the fact that the Breeder's Cup will be at Santa Anita. Home track IS a big advantage. No Eastern based horse has won the BC Classic when the BC has been held at Santa Anita. In fact, in all the BC Classics run at Santa Anita, the top finisher among the US based horses was a West runner(86-Skywalker won, 93- Archangues(Euro) won with Bertrando 2nd, 03-Pleasantly Perfect won, 08-Euros 1st + 2nd with Tiago 3rd, 09-Zenyatta won). I aslo think the 10 furlongs will be an equalizer. Game on Dude is a proven 10 furlong warrior; he chews other speed and spits them out and he loves Santa Anita. For many of the Eastern older horses, the Classic will be their first 10 furlong race of the year while for some from California it will be their 3rd or 4th.
Alex Martinez More than 1 year ago
If Game On Dude wins then there is still the debate on him being a top horse in the nation. As Jordan said, he's a 10 furlong warrior and proved as much at Churchill against the best. Yes, Wise Dan, Alternation are major players and while Successful Dan got DQ'd from his only G1 victory, he's in the mix as well. But I wouldn't be so dismissive to Game on Dude and Morning Line, they have been proven against the best.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Morning Line has. Game On Dude hasn't crossed the Mississippi in over a year except for the Breeders Cup. His only win on the East Coast was his maiden win. It'd be nice for a horse aspiring to be top-flight this days to at least leave California once in a while regardless of who is hosting the Breeders Cup. The division seems miles ahead of even where it was a year ago, in California. But the reason you see Eclipse balloting become an East-vs-West thing is because the West doesn't come East enough (and, to be fair, vice versa).
Alex More than 1 year ago
Yay, another five-horse field in a California stakes race.
Jordan More than 1 year ago
Then let's see some Eastern horses come out for a grade 1, at the classic distance of 10 furlongs. Forget all the 9 furlong stuff back East, and show that you can run a classic distance by running in the Hollywood Gold Cup. And don't give me synth as an excuse for not coming. It's been well established that dirt horses can run on Hollywood's Cushion. Horses like I'll Have Another and Creative Cause broke their maiden on Cushion Track.. Morning Line had no problem on it. And Game on Dude, who clearly doesn't like synth(Pacific Classic, Dubai) ran a fantastic race last year in the Hollywood Gold Cup. Amazombie has won a bunch of stakes on dirt, and crossed the wire first in two stakes on Cushion Track last year. I can go on and on. Baffert, who really doesn't prefer synth, has moved from Santa Anita's dirt to Hollywood's Cushion this year and hasn't missed a beat, winning at over a 40% clip in the first month+ of the Hollywood meet. So, as a fan living in SoCal, I implore the connections of Eastern based horses to come West for one of the great races for older males on the schedule, the Hollywood Gold Cup. Join the list of great Eastern horses to win the race, including recent winner Cigar and Skip Away. Come out and compete in a REAL classic race for older males, at a real classic distance. And if some folks are correct, take advantage of a weak group of local challengers.
Alex Martinez More than 1 year ago
I agree with you Jordan, but I unfortunately don't see any challengers from the east coast coming out for the Gold Cup. You would think the connections of Wise Dan & Successful Dan would come out because of their success at the synth of Keeneland, but it doesn't look that way. Santa Anita even switched to an all dirt track and only had Ron the Greek come out. I just simply think the cost is just too much to come out here and challenge. Keeneland, Churchill, Gulfstream, Belmont, Saratoga, Pimlico, they are all a stones throw away from each other. Costs are double to go from there to out here when there are other races then can win at equivalent purses. I know the Southern California tracks are offering incentives to come out, but until the purses start getting in the $1.5-$2M for the major G1's (Hollwood Gold Cup, Santa Anita Handicap, Pacific Classic), I think we're left with Baffert's horses and the occasional major player with another trainer (e.g. Morning Line), which ultimately leads to small fields here.
LINDA ZEIGENFUSE More than 1 year ago
agree with ya Alex---from the east coast and it seems the purse money is getting SHORTER and SHORTER ---PUT the bucks up and the HOSSES WILL COME! from ANYWHERE