02/08/2014 6:18PM

Santa Anita: Blingo surprises in San Antonio as Game On Dude fades to fifth

Benoit & Associates
Blingo, ridden by Aaron Gryder, pays $33.80 after rallying to win the San Antonio.

ARCADIA, Calif.- An ideal trip behind a fast pace gave Blingo the biggest win of his career in Saturday’s $300,000 San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita, a race in which 1-5  favorite Game On Dude fought through a speed duel and faded to finish fifth in his 2014 debut.

Blingo ($33.80) closed from fifth in a field of seven to edge 26-1 Imperative by a half-length in the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes over 1 1/8 miles.

Game On Dude, the winner of the San Antonio Stakes in 2012 and 2013 and 11 other stakes, fought with Blueskiesnrainbows through a quick pace of 22.75 and 46.26 seconds, and faded from contention in the final furlong. A 7-year-old, Game On Dude finished 6 1/2 lengths behind Blingo.

Blingo, who races for Jerry and Ann Moss and is trained by John Shirreffs, was timed in 1:47.95. Aaron Gryder rode the winner. American Blend finished third.

Trainer Bob Baffert said Game On Dude’s front-running style is a tactic that cannot be changed, regardless of the competition.

“The thing about Dude is you’ve got to let him run,” Baffert said. “We’re not changing his style if a horse goes out there like that. They were going pretty fast. They went really fast the first quarter.”

The San Antonio Stakes was Game On Dude’s first start since a second to Will Take Charge in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs on Nov. 29.

After Saturday’s race, Baffert downplayed the presence of a patched quarter crack on Game On Dude’s right front foot.

“That’s nothing,” he said.

Game On Dude was so heavily favored that he attracted $371,930 of the $440,283 bet to show. Race winner Blingo paid $27.20 to show, Imperative paid $22.40 to show and American Blend paid $25.80.

Blueskiesnrainbows, ridden by Rafael Bejarano, led from the start, holding a half-length advantage over Game On Dude, who was ridden by Mike Smith. Those two had a five-length advantage on Imperative on the first turn.

Jockey Kent Desormeaux, aboard Imperative , was first to move toward the leaders, closing along the inside on the backstretch. At that stage, Blingo was fifth, racing about 10 lengths behind the leaders.

 “When he broke, he settled in beautifully,” Gryder said of Blingo. “I was very happy.  I wanted him in a stride where he was comfortable.”

There were three horses across the track on the turn, with Game On Dude widest, with a quarter-mile remaining.

“He tried a little bit” on the turn, Baffert said. “He just got tired.”

Gryder guided Blingo four-wide entering the stretch. Blingo caught the eye with a strong rally.

“At the three-eighths pole, I had to find some room,” Gryder said.

Imperative, on the inside, and Blingo, racing outside, were separated by a head with a furlong remaining. Blingo outran his rival through the final sixteenth, but the runner-up earned the respect of Gryder.

“Imperative ran the race of his life,” Gryder said. “He got to me but he never got by me. My horse showed courage to be the winner.”

Blingo, a 5-year-old gelding by Artie Schiller, was sixth in the Grade 2 San Pasqual Stakes behind Blueskiesnrainbows here on Jan. 11. Blingo won the minor La Puente Stakes on turf as a 3-year-old in 2012, and the I’m A Banker Stakes at Belmont Park last October. He has won 4 of 11 starts and earned $364,408.

Prior to the San Antonio Stakes, Blingo’s best finish in a graded stakes was a fourth  in the Grade 2 La Jolla Handicap for 3-year-olds on turf at Del Mar in August  2012.