09/23/2012 6:33PM

Santa Anita: Baffert has prime contenders in Grade 1 stakes opening weekend

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Game On Dude, second behind Dullahan in the Pacific Classic, is projected to be a heavy favorite in Saturday's Awesome Again at Santa Anita.

ARCADIA, Calif.-  Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert won 11 Grade 1 races in 2011. He could equal that mark as early as this weekend on the opening Saturday of the Santa Anita fall meeting.

Through Sunday, Baffert has nine Grade 1 wins this year. He will have runners in four of the five Grade 1 races at Santa Anita on Saturday, and will have favorites in two races.

Baffert’s best chances are with the older horse Game On Dude in the $250,000 Awesome Again Stakes, a race formerly known as the Goodwood Stakes, and the 2-year-old filly Executiveprivilege in the $250,000 Chandelier Stakes, formerly known as the Oak Leaf Stakes.

Both horses had their final workouts at Santa Anita on Sunday.

Game On Dude, working in company with 2011 Santa Anita Derby winner Midnight Interlude, worked six furlongs in 1:13.20. It was the third fastest of 18 recorded works over a surface that has not produced quick times in recent days.

“He was just cruising around there,” Baffert said. “The track is so deep in the stretch. It’s hard to get a handle on some horses.”

Later Sunday morning, Executiveprivilege, working in company, was timed in 1:13.80.

Game On Dude was second in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs and is being pointed to the same race at Santa Anita on Nov. 3.

Game On Dude won the Goodwood last October in his final prep. He will be a strong favorite in the Awesome Again where he will be ridden by the circuit’s leading jockey, Rafael Bejarano.

Game On Dude won the Hollywood Gold Cup in July and was second to Dullahan in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar in August. He was ridden by Chantal Sutherland in those races. Baffert announced earlier this month that Bejarano will have the mount starting in the Awesome Again.

In the Awesome Again Stakes over 1 1/8 miles, Game On Dude is part of a field expected to include Balladry, Groovin’ Solo, John Scott, Kettle Corn, Rail Trip, Suggestive Boy, and perhaps Winning Machine.

Rail Trip won the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar in July, but was fourth in the Pacific Classic.

All five of Santa Anita’s Grade 1 races on Saturday – including the FrontRunner Stakes for 2-year-olds, Rodeo Drive Stakes for turf females and Zenyatta Stakes for females on the main track – are part of the Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In program, offering automatic berths to Breeders’ Cup races for the winners, if nominated to the Breeders’ Cup.

Executiveprivilege is unbeaten in four starts, all with Bejarano aboard. The leading 2-year-old filly in California, she was fully extended to beat a speedy Beholder by a nose in the Del Mar Debutante over seven furlongs on Sept. 1.

The close finish in that race was caused by Bejarano’s confidence in his mount, Baffert said.

“He was waiting for that other horse to come back,” Baffert said.

Those two fillies lead the Chandelier, which is run over 1 1/16 miles and is a prep for the BC Juvenile Fillies on Nov. 2.

Sunday, Executiveprivilege worked in company, starting about four lengths behind a stablemate. She moved closer in early stretch and finished two lengths in front.

A three-time stakes winner, Executiveprivilege will start around two turns for the first time in the Chandelier.