02/04/2013 2:15PM

Santa Anita: Game On Dude posts 116 Beyer in San Antonio; Santa Anita Handicap next

Shigeki Kikkawa
Game On Dude’s 116 Beyer Speed Figure not only equalled a career high, but is the top mark so far in 2013.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Game On Dude equaled a career-high Beyer Speed Figure of 116 with his win in Sunday’s $200,000 San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita, a performance that will make him a strong favorite for the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap on March 2.

The San Antonio Stakes was witnessed by Joe Torre, Game On Dude’s co-owner and the retired manager of the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Torre sat with trainer Bob Baffert for the race and admitted to a few anxious moments when Game On Dude was fighting for the lead with Basmati.

“I’m not an expert, but I have been around athletes all my life,” Torre said. “I was sitting next to Bob. When he said at the top of the stretch, ‘This horse has got plenty left,’ I relaxed a little bit.”

Game On Dude pulled away from three rivals to win by 6 1/2 lengths, running 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.53 for his ninth career stakes win. Game On Dude won the 2012 San Antonio and the 2011 Santa Anita Handicap.

He did not run in the 2012 Santa Anita Handicap, but was 12th in the Dubai World Cup last March.

A 6-year-old gelding, Game On Dude also earned a 116 Beyer with a win in the Grade 2 Californian Stakes at Betfair Hollywood Park last June.

Game On Dude leads a Santa Anita Handicap field expected to include defending champion Ron the Greek, who won the Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 26.

Baffert faces a pivotal decision in coming weeks whether to start Guilt Trip, winner of the $200,000 Strub Stakes on Saturday.

Guilt Trip had an ideal trip to win the Grade 2 Strub Stakes over 1 1/8 miles for 4-year-olds, stalking the pace before drawing off to win by 1 1/2 lengths over the Florida shipper Stephanoatsee.

Most Strub winners are automatic entrants for the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap, though Baffert held back from that commitment Sunday.

“We’ve got a lot of time to think about that,” Baffert said. “We’re not in a hurry. We’ve got a lot of options. Any horse can go a mile and a quarter with the right pace. He looked good” Saturday.

The Strub Stakes was Guilt Trip’s first win over 1 1/8 miles, and his first stakes win in his seventh career start. A colt by Pulpit, Guilt Trip is owned by Gary and Mary West, who also won Saturday’s Grade 2 Robert Lewis Stakes for 3-year-olds with the Baffert-trained Flashback.

The Big Cap field also may include Stephanoatsee, who made his California debut in the Strub. In a text message, trainer Graham Motion said he was “very happy” with Stephanoatsee’s performance Saturday.

He described the Big Cap as “very possible.”

Another expected runner is Called to Serve, a stakes winner in New York and Maryland for trainer Nick Canani.