08/28/2013 4:21PM

Jay Hovdey: How about that Pacific Classic blanket finish?

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It was a heck of a horse race, truly one for the books.

With a sixteenth of a mile to run in last Sunday’s 1 1/4-mile Pacific Classic, the Canadian ace Delegation was still hanging tough after being on the engine from the start. Richard’s Kid, a two-time winner of the Classic, had been flung six wide on the turn and was making good headway in the middle of the track. Nearer the rail, the Brazilian colt Holding Glory was getting a dream trip, while the stablemates Kettle Corn and You Know I Know were both on the march.

As Delegation began to tire from his efforts, Victor Espinoza deftly slipped Kettle Corn past a tiring Jeranimo. Edwin Maldonado, on You Know I Know, found a hole between Jeranimo and the filly Byrama, while Chantal Sutherland-Kruse (can we just make it “Chantal”?) steered Holding Glory to the left of the retreating Delegation.

The wire loomed, to the roar of 33,000 in the house, and four horses hit the wire as one, their riders belly down. Even Trevor Denman, a race-caller who can split hairs, dared not hazard a guess. Then the photo sign came down and Denman delivered the news: Kettle Corn by a nose over You Know I Know, who finished a nose in front of Richard’s Kid, who edged Holding Glory by a head.

“That was a really great race,” said Bob Baffert, “for second.”

For Baffert, the suspense of the Pacific Classic had ended several beats earlier when Game On Dude reached the end of the race 8 1/2 lengths in front of Kettle Corn and the rest. This gave the trainer time to enjoy the scramble for second prize, which, at $200,000, was the same as winning a race with a pot of close to four hundred large. Well done Kettle Corn.

“Actually, when we got up the backside, around the five-eighths pole, I saw Game On Dude going as easy as he was, and I kind of thought we were in trouble then,” said Joe Talamo, who rode Richard’s Kid. “By the time we turned for home, I pretty much knew me and the other two horses I could see were running for second.”

It is perfectly understandable for a jockey, whose life is glued to the goal of winning, to feel the wind leave the sails in such a situation. Unless your name is Alydar, nobody ever remembers who was second. Still, it is a professional obligation to get every scrap of purse possible. Jockeys who coast when first place is out of reach are quickly exposed.

“Trust me, I was riding as hard as I can to get second,” Talamo said. “I know we don’t get as much for finishing second or third, and past that we just get the jock’s mount. But even if it’s for fourth or fifth I’m staying down to the wire, because the owner can still get a pretty good chunk.”

So what did Talamo earn in the Classic, missing second money by two noses?

“Actually, I don’t even know,” he said. “I think in a race like that it’s something like a hundred dollars.”

Actually, it was $135, compared to Espinoza’s $10,000 for second and Maldonado’s $6,000 for third. Welcome to Thoroughbred horse racing, the last bastion of performance-based rewards.

Meanwhile, Martin Garcia’s rousing performance in place of Mike Smith aboard Game On Dude recalled a quiet weekday in 1974 when the talented Panamanian Jorge Tejeira subbed for a suspended Laffit Pincay Jr. on the West’s best 2-year-old filly, Miss Tokyo. Enjoying the ride in what he knew was a one-shot deal, Tejeira let Miss Tokyo rock and roll to a lopsided win in the six-furlong Junior Miss Stakes at Del Mar, then tossed the reins back to Laffit.

Game On Dude did not need to win by 8 1/2 lengths, and Baffert knew it. But he did not blame Garcia for being overly enthusiastic.

“That was my fault,” Baffert said. “I told Martin when he hit the top of the stretch to shower down left-handed and open up. I didn’t want to take any chances he’d get caught like he did last year.”

Last year, Dullahan reeled in Game On Dude and Chantal at the end of the Classic to win by a half-length. This year, following orders to perfection, Garcia sat chilly until Game On Dude cruised past the three-sixteenths marker and then got busy. The four horses immediately in his wake were running on hard for second place, and yet Game On Dude still increased his margin in the final eighth of a mile. It was the West’s most visually ferocious main-track performance by an older horse since Pat Valenzuela pulled out all the stops on Lava Man in the 2006 Hollywood Gold Cup.

Garcia also is Game On Dude’s work rider, so chances are he will be back on board when they take the field for the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 2. At this point, however, the jockey is beside the point. There’s a lot of training to be done between now and then.

“I was breathing harder after climbing the stairs back to the box than Game On Dude was after the race,” Baffert said. “But that’s the way he’s been all year long. He doesn’t take any time at all to recover.”

Game On Dude is by far the best older gelding ever handled by Baffert, who took over his training when purchased by the partnership of Bernie Schiappa, Ernie Moody, Joe Torre, and the late Terri Lanni as a 3-year-old in the spring of 2010. For Baffert, Game On Dude has won 14 of 24 starts, including his last six in a row, and nearly all of his $5.6 million.

“Game On Dude showed a lot of brilliance when we first got him,” Baffert said. “But he didn’t really put it all together until he got a little older. The deal now with an older horse like him is watching their weight. It’s easy to put weight on a younger horse training him, but you can’t train an older horse as hard as you once did. So I watch him really close. Look at him every day for any changes.

“One thing about him,” Baffert added, “I’ve learned a lot from Game On Dude about training horses.”

Kram Hslew More than 1 year ago
Baffert says he is still learning? Maybe the other boys better go back to school.
Pierre Prudhomme More than 1 year ago
The track was dead last year, Dullahan coming from behind. This year the track played to speed with an assist from Contreras on Delegation Immediately to the left of Game on Dude in the gate. He outbroke G.o.D. ,and went to the right allowing a clear run for Dude and then stayed in the middle of the track to eliminate a potential pace challenge from Blueskiesnrainbows.I could have ridden Dude to a win!
Jordan More than 1 year ago
I was at Del Mar Sunday, and that first quarter of a mile might have been the oddest that I have ever seen. From what I've read after the race, Contreras was told to do some race riding on Blueskiesinrainbows. Casse didn't want Delegation to get embroiled in a 3-way speed duel; they wanted to "take out" Blueskies(or at least make him work very hard if Pedroza insisted on going to the front), and force Blueskies to drop in behind Delegation(which is what ultimately happened). I guess Casse thought that if Blueskies became discouraged early and Pedroza conceded the lead, Dude and Delegation would have the front to themselves and may the best horse win. But it seems a head scratcher to me and others why Casse and Contreras would be so preoccupied by the longest shot on the board and not be equally determined to make things difficult on Game on Dude. With Dude breaking from the stall directly to Contreras' outside, why wasn't goal #1 to park Dude in the middle to the track(and likely take Blueskies with them)? Did Dude's slow break eliminate this option and force Contreras to float the horse that was now directly to his outside, Blueskies? Or is it possible that Contreras was unaware that Dude had come out of the gate tardy, and he mistook Bliueskies, who was moving up on the outside to engage for the lead, for Dude?
Jordan More than 1 year ago
I often play through a scenario, in the presence of a runaway stakes winner, where I pretend that the winner wasn't in the field. I think Crist or Watchmaker did the same thing after the 09' Derby, describing how purists, in the wake of what would have been a thrilling 3-way stretch battle sans Mine That Bird, would have marched on Mt. Beyer when a mid-90 fig would have been given to the race. I also will imagine, after a particularly slow renewal of a stakes, how things would have been different if either a current or past great had been in the race. Imagine Paseana or Azeri in this year's Vanity. Byrama, nice filly as she is, wouldn't have sniffed the winner's photo under the line.
Jordan More than 1 year ago
Wasn't it the 2005 Hollywood Gold Cup when P Val rode Lava Man to an 8.75 length record win? Nakatani then rode Lava Man for both his 06' and 07' wins, each won in a photo.
B More than 1 year ago
Amusing article.
CMathieu66 More than 1 year ago
"Chantal"? How about "Godiva", a summation covering her billboard work and also explain her thought process on half her mounts, as each are equally naked.
Dan Fidel More than 1 year ago
Baffert giveth and Baffert taketh away. One can"t help notice the innuendo shots the trainer has taken at Jockey Chantal Sutherland Kruse regarding her ride on GODude in last years classic. How that loss was hard to take and in this particular article, how he had Garcia "shower down lefthanded so as not to take any chances like last year"! Its his prerogative to make a rider switch. But theres no need to beat her up any longer over that ride. It was coincidental to me she retired soon afterwards.
Barbara Bowen More than 1 year ago
She dropped a rein in a close stretch battle at the wire. Bob must keep the lip chain on himself to never directly mention that error. Regardless of what you think about Bob, ask yourself for real, if you owned Game On Dude and that happened to you in a million dollar race, would it be painful? At least he picked up the tab for Garcia emptying the tank for no apparent reason in the stretch.
Bob More than 1 year ago
A "blanket finish" for second doesn't count for anything....it just proves that you have a field of second-rate horses who are outmatched by a single, superior race horse! If Game on Dude can match his performance in the Pacific Classic when he runs in the BC Classic at Santa Anita, it will take one hell of a horse to nose hi out of the Horse of the Year race....and that horse doesn't appear to be running anywhere in the world that I have seen. That said, it is also a fact that the Dude failed miserably as the 6/5 favorite in last years BC Classic, which was also run at Santa Anita. And perhaps more importantly the the six horses who finished in front of him only Richard's Kid has been heard from since!
sharjil More than 1 year ago
Dude needs to bring better than his Pacific Classic game to win BCC. No one is going to hand him over those easy fractions. There is going to be plenty of speed in the Classic. And Dude is known to flat out once someone looks him in the eye. Being said that, no easy opening fractions are possible. There are more speed horses. Then there are going to be deep closers that will be looking for a hot pace. Its going to take Dude a better than his best performance to win. Its not going to be a Classic where Drosselmeyer will beat him. There are many more quality horses this time around.
Jordan More than 1 year ago
No question that, assuming everyone remains healthy, that the pace scenario for the BC Classic will be much more testing for Dude than these recent races(although if you accept the revisions to the time of the Pac Classic, Dude did run the first quarter in 22 and 4, and got the half in 46 and change. The critics of Game on Dude pretty much rest their case on last year's BC Classic. For these critics, that race showed that Dude can't handle a quick and contested pace, and that when faced with better opposition and a sub-optimal race flow, he quits. Last year's BC Classic is emphasized by the critics, while Dude's runner-up effort in the same race in 11' is minimized. Thus, much weight is given to the fact that the top 4 finishers in last year's Classic were Eastern based runners, for example Flat Out, leading to the conclusion that the Eastern older horse division was considerably more competitive and deep than the horses Dude had been facing out West. Of course, this ignores the fact that in the 2011 BC Classic Game on Dude was able to beat Flat Out. Why should the 2012 Classic be looked upon as the true representation of the relative ability of Dude and Flat Out? Holding up last year's Classic as as the true reflection of Dude's ability also overlooks the fact that in addition to the 4 Eastern horses, Dude also finished behind Richard's Kid and Nonios in the race. What's telling is that since Richard's Kid has returned from Dubai, he has faced Dude 7 times, with the 2012 Classic being the only race in which Richard finished ahead of the Dude. And in both the races before and after last year's Classic, Dude was able to beat Nonios. So, the 2012 Classic result and not these other races should be used as evidence of Dude's ability? Isn't it possible that last year's Classic is the anomaly, the result of a poor start, passive ride, and difficult trip? Last year's Classic is also used to illustrate that Dude is quick to quit if challenged up front or faced with a demanding trip. While it is true that unlike all-time great horses such as The Bid and Secretariat, Dude is not so good that he can overcome extremely negative intra-race dynamics. Once Bejarano had allowed Dude to be floated back to 5th, the task was going to be too difficult for Dude to pull off. However, I don't think this one race should be the sole race to analyze when determining Dude's heart. Remember the 2011 Big Cap? In that race, Dude was involved in bumper cars with the favorite Twirling Candy and Setsuko through the stretch, and had Setsuko pass him in deep stretch. While Twirling Candy wilted under the physical demands of that stretch drive, Dude was able to dig far deep into his reserves to re-rally on the inside of Setsuko to nab the photo. In that year's Hollywood Gold Cup, Dude again was able to duel Twirling Candy into submission, only to be caught by stablemate First Dude on the wire. In the 2011 Goodwood, Dude was able to dispose of an early pace challenger, rebuff the middle-move from multiple grade 1 winner Coil, and then hold off the late charge of multimillionaireAwesome Gem. The 2011 BC Classic was as much a showcase of Dude's determination and professionalism as the 2012 Classic was proof of the opposite. In that 2011 Classic, Dude took the best shots from repeated challengers, namely Uncle Mo, To Honor and Serve, Horse of the Year Havre de Grace, So You Think, Stay Thirsty, and Flat Out. The fact Drosselmeyer was ultimately able to wear him down in deep stretch doesn't invalidate the courage Dude displayed. Further proof of Dude's toughness came in last year's Native Diver when Nonios made a show me what you got move at Dude in the stretch before Dude fought back on the inside to win going away. And this year, Dude showed good fortitude to fight off simultaneous challenges from Clubhouse Ride on the outside and Ron the Greek on the inside in the stretch of the Charles Town Classic. Finally, Dude was able to dig down deep in this year's Hollywood Gold and hold off Kettle Corn, who was running the race of his life, even though Dude was spotting that rival 11 lbs(127-116). And Dude can run quick early fractions and keep going. Dude was a part of that scrum for the early lead in the 2011 Big Cap through fractions of 22 and 4, 46 and 3, and 1:10 and 3, he dueled through fractions of 22 and 1, 45 and 1, and 1:09 in the 2011 Goodwood, he dueled through fractions of 23, 45 and 4, and 1:09 in the 2012 San Antonio, and overly a brutally slow Hollywood Park Cushion Track, dueled through a half in 47 and 3 and 6 furlongs in 1:11 and 4 in the 2012 Hollywood Gold Cup.
Barbara Bowen More than 1 year ago
Fort Larned didn't win the Gr. 1 Foster?
R. Carlos Nanez More than 1 year ago
Why so much " bla-bla " about GOD, he has beating no body, and when he win is only because everything went his way, that's why they keep him in California where the competition is weak in the older horse division. I'm not saying he is not a good horse,just not a great horse, like Secretary, Seattle Slew, Dr. Fager, those horses where great horses, they didn't need their own way, they could break backward and still run their race, not back up out of the race like GOD does when thins didn't go his way. So you guys stop making GOD like another Secretary.
Albert More than 1 year ago
Amen brother.
Ceil Rock More than 1 year ago
Secretariat. He also lost to Angle Light, Prove Out and Onion in his 3-yr-old season. He was brilliant on his best day, but he didn't always bring his A-game. Nobody is saying Game On Dude is Secretariat, but he's not dog food. Similar to Zenyatta - he gets no respect from those of you who have the blinders on.
Barbara Bowen More than 1 year ago
Did you say GOD has a secretary? Did she call you back?
Horse Cents More than 1 year ago
Now Barbara, he said Game On Dude was like a secretary, not has a secretary. I would think watching him answer the phones would be a real hoot. The phone rings and Bob says, dude, you want to get that?
Jordan More than 1 year ago
Maybe some folks who comment on sites like this have made those comparisons, but I am unaware of any professional writer or handicapper with half a brain that is trying to make Game on Dude out to be an all-time great horse. Most fans of Game on Dude, like myself, don't even place him up with recent stars like Curlin, Ghostzapper, Tiznow, Invasor, and Point Given, the latter 4 of which are in the Hall of Fame(and Curlin will be voted in the first time he's eligible), at least not yet. I see Game on Dude with Lava Man(who should get into the Hall) and Gio Ponti(borderline Hall horse). Game on Dude's not an elite talent, but he's very good, durable, fairly consistent, and has compiled some Hall of Fame worthy accomplishments. 13 graded stakes wins, 7 grade 1s, over $5 million in earnings thus far, the second horse to win both the Big Cap and Hollywood Gold Cup multiple times, the 2nd horse to win the Big Cap, Hollywood Gold Cup, and Pacific Classic in the same year, setting stakes records for margin of victory for the Big Cap, Pacific Classic, San Antonio, and Californian. Dude has dominated the handicap divsion in Cali as much any horse over the lost 75 years. That at least partially speaks to the moderate competition Dude has had to face, but he deserves lots of credit for being durable enough to stay healthy, and consistent enough to take advantage of this opportunity.
Don Reed More than 1 year ago
"Chantal" is indeed sufficient. And yes, it was a great race for Second. It was a shame that due to the time that expired between GOD winning it and Kettle Korn getting 2nd, the last race on the card ended at 4:34 a.m. on the following day.