02/03/2012 4:11PM

Santa Anita: Game On Dude the big horse in San Antonio; $353K carryover on Sunday

Justin N. Lane
Game On Dude, with Chantal Sutherland riding, is a tough second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. “He’s got such great endurance that when they do come to him, he’s like a train,” Sutherland says of the gelding.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Santa Anita will roll out the red carpet Sunday for Game On Dude, the top handicap horse in California and lone speed in the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes. The San Antonio is race 7, and the fifth leg of the pick six, whch will have a $353,248 carryover following I'll Have Another's $88 victory in Saturday's Robert Lewis Stakes.

Although racing-fit Uh Oh Bango won the Grade 2 San Pasqual last month, his trainer, Kory Owens, acknowledges comebacker Game On Dude holds an unequivocal advantage in his first start since a runner-up finish three months ago in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

“This race looks like it is Game On Dude’s to lose,” Owens said. “I don’t see anyone putting pressure on that horse. Maybe in the Big ’Cap, there will be a bigger field and maybe shuffle up [the pace] a little bit.”

The 1 1/8-mile San Antonio for older horses, and the Strub Stakes for 4-year-olds that was to be run Saturday, will define the field for the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap on March 3. One year ago, victory in the Grade 1 Big Cap propelled Game On Dude from allowance-horse obscurity to a status as one of the country’s top older males.

It was a reputation Game On Dude held all season, though his only subsequent victory was the Grade 1 Goodwood in fall. Sprinkled around Game On Dude’s two Grade 1’s were runner-up finishes in the Charles Town Classic, Hollywood Gold Cup and a gallant season-ending effort for trainer Bob Baffert in the Breeders’ Cup.

Chantal Sutherland rides Game On Dude. Her quiet style complements the gelding’s up-front running style.

“He’s strong into the first part of the race, but then he’ll kind of – not drop the bit, but idle, relax,” she said. “He’s got a great cruising speed. He doesn’t have that huge turn of foot, so you let him do his cruising. He’s got such great endurance that when they do come to him, he’s like a train.”

Game On Dude is a scrappy battler whose 14 starts have produced 5 wins and earnings of more than $2.1 million. A 6-year-old gelding, Game On Dude enters 2012 as the top main-track male in California, with a solid workout pattern for his first start since Nov. 5.

Mike Smith rode Drosselmeyer to victory over Game On Dude in the Breeders’ Cup. News coverage focused extensively on Smith defeating Sutherland, his former girlfriend. Three months later, Sutherland hopes the focus returns to horses rather than jockeys.

“It maybe was interesting for the audience that loves that drama, the audience that watched ‘Jockeys,’ ” she said. “But it really did take away from the performance of Drosselmeyer and Game On Dude, who fought off everybody.”

Still, there is some irony to the San Antonio, the first start for Game On Dude and Sutherland since the Breeders’ Cup. Once again, their chief rival is a horse ridden by Smith.

Uh Oh Bango is positioned for the best season of his career, and Smith figures to be part of the campaign. He had never ridden the 5-year-old until Jan. 7, when Owens sought a rider for the Grade 2 San Pasqual, one that would put Uh Oh Bango into the race.

“We were trying to figure out – do we come from off of it [the pace]? Which way do we want to ride it?” Owens said. “We’ve come to the conclusion that he is not a turn-of-foot horse. He’s a grinder, and he keeps going and going and going.”

Smith was the perfect fit.

“I start riding him at the half-mile pole,” Smith said. In the San Pasqual, he pressed the pace, continued with his one-paced attack into the lane, made the lead at the top of the lane and inched away by a length and three-quarters.

It was the fifth win from 17 starts for Uh Oh Bango, who has earned $532,712 for Triple AAA Ranch owner-breeder Richard Owens, Kory Owens’ father. Uh Oh Bango, who until recently was a notch below the top handicap horses but also out of conditions, has been difficult to find races for.

“We’ve had to move him around so much, with different riders and different surfaces,” Owens said. “We’re finally able to keep him in one spot, for this meet anyway.”

Game On Dude is the 4-5 favorite on Santa Anita line-maker Jon White’s morning line; Uh Oh Bango is second choice at 7-2. Other starters include Tres Borrachos, 4-1; Victory Pete, 6-1; Skipshot, 8-1; El Gato Malo, 12-1; and Ashtar, 20-1.

Early first post Sunday is 11 a.m. Post time for the San Antonio, race 7 on an eight-race card, is 2 p.m.