09/27/2012 2:46PM

Santa Anita: Game On Dude formidable on favorite track in Awesome Again

Benoit & Associates
Game On Dude won the Goodwood (now Awesome Again) under Chantal Sutherland, but will be ridden by Rafael Bejarano on Saturday.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Game On Dude has raced this year in Dubai, at Hollywood Park, and Del Mar, but it is at Santa Anita, where he began his 2012 campaign, that he shines best, which is why he will be the focal point of the Grade 1, $250,000 Awesome Again Stakes on Saturday.

Game On Dude is unbeaten in four lifetime starts at Santa Anita, including the 2011 Goodwood Stakes, which is what the Awesome Again was known as before Santa Anita’s fall stakes were renamed. Fortuitously for Game On Dude, a gelding, Santa Anita also is where the Breeders’ Cup will take place both this year and next, putting him in a terrific position to improve upon his runner-up finish in last year’s BC Classic when this year’s Classic is run Nov. 3.

SANTA ANITA: Get PPs and watch Saturday's full card live

The Awesome Again, the 10th race on an 11-race card that begins at 1 p.m. Pacific, offers a fees-paid berth to the BC Classic as part of the Win And You’re In program, and is one of five Grade 1 stakes on Saturday’s card that offer similar entrée to respective Breeders’ Cup races.

Divisional leader Executiveprivilege heads the Chandelier Stakes, a prep for the BC Juvenile Fillies. Know More, Capo Bastone, and Gabriel Charles are the main contenders in the FrontRunner, the local tune-up for the BC Juvenile. BC Ladies’ Classic hopefuls, led by Include Me Out, meet in the Zenyatta. Marketing Mix and City to City head the Rodeo Drive, a prep for the BC Filly and Mare Turf.

In addition, a bronze of the wildly popular mare Zenyatta will be unveiled at noon, one hour before the first race, at the south side of the Kingsbury Fountain by the main grandstand entrance. The piece was done by Nina Kaiser, who did the bronze of John Henry that is north of the fountain.

All those festivities serve as a warm-up act for the Awesome Again, which at 1 1/8 miles is a furlong shorter than the BC Classic. It drew a field of nine, including Richard’s Kid, Rail Trip, and Suggestive Boy, all of whom finished behind Game On Dude in their most-recent start, the Pacific Classic at Del Mar.

Game On Dude was second in the Pacific Classic. He will be ridden Saturday by Rafael Bejarano, who replaces Chantal Sutherland. Bejarano regularly works Game On Dude and has emerged as the main rider for trainer Bob Baffert.

“He’ll get a little test drive before the Breeders’ Cup,” Baffert said at Santa Anita.

A key to watch with Game On Dude will be how he reacts to breaking from the rail. He often starts a half-step slowly, and in many of his recent races he was way too keen early, particularly when turning into the backstretch. It will be up to Bejarano to ration the speed that makes Game On Dude so formidable.

It certainly would be appropriate for Game On Dude to win the inaugural Awesome Again, being as the race is named for his sire.

Richard’s Kid was a troubled third last time out in the Pacific Classic, his first start since being privately purchased and moved from Baffert’s barn to that of Doug O’Neill, whose assistant, Leandro Mora, saddled him in the Pacific Classic. O’Neill was scheduled to be back from a medication suspension Friday and was eager to see Richard’s Kid run.

“I thought he ran great last time,” O’Neill said Thursday. “He had to steady a little bit around the turn.”

Both Game On Dude and Richard’s Kid carried 124 pounds in the Pacific Classic, but under the allowance conditions of the Awesome Again, Richard’s Kid gets a five-pound weight break (119-124) from Game On Dude.

“That surely helps,” O’Neill said.

Rail Trip was fourth in the Pacific Classic, but, like Game On Dude, he has never lost at Santa Anita. He also carries just 119 pounds.

Ron Ellis, who trains Rail Trip, has gotten him back to top form after a wayward journey to the East Coast. While Ellis concedes that Rail Trip, now age 7, might not be as good as he was at 4 and 5, “it doesn’t mean he can’t get it done,” said Ellis, who added that Rail Trip has become far more sensible early in his races.

“He was always very tough as a younger horse,” Ellis said. “He’d try to work too fast. By the time they’re 5, usually they settle down. It took him longer. Now that he’s 7, he’s really professional.”

Suggestive Boy was fifth in the Pacific Classic, his first effort on a synthetic surface following eight starts on turf. The Awesome Again marks his first start on dirt. His trainer, Ron McAnally, said the Awesome Again will determine whether Suggestive Boy stays on dirt or returns to turf.

McAnally worked Suggestive Boy on the turf last weekend because he thought the dirt at Santa Anita “seemed a little cuppy,” but he believed the track was tightening up as the week progressed.

Nonios takes on his elders after finishing fifth in the Travers in his last start.

Winning Machine invades from Emerald Downs, where was second last time out in the Longacres Mile.

Balladry, Empire Way, and Groovin Solo each would need to run the race of their life to be a factor.