02/07/2012 2:21PM

Santa Anita: Game On Dude's options left open

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Benoit & Associates
Game On Dude, with Chantal Sutherland riding, wins the San Antonio.

ARCADIA, Calif. – With his victory in the San Antonio Stakes on Sunday in his 2012 debut, Game On Dude has put himself in position to join the likes of John Henry, Milwaukee Brew, and Lava Man as repeat winners of the Santa Anita Handicap, which Game On Dude won last year following a bumpy stretch run.

The Big Cap comes at the beginning of March, four weeks after the San Antonio. And then four weeks later comes the Dubai World Cup, whose outsized $10 million purse makes the Big Cap, worth a tidy $750,000, look like walking-around money.

But while Game On Dude might appear to be among the leading candidates for the World Cup, his trainer, Bob Baffert, is on the fence regarding that race. Baffert on Sunday said he would go there in an instant if the race were still on dirt, as it was when he won with Silver Charm and Captain Steve. But with Meydan Racecourse utilizing a Tapeta surface, and Game On Dude not nearly as effective on synthetic as dirt, the Big Cap may be the main goal in March.

“It’s something we’ll all have to sit down and talk about,” Baffert said.

“It’s getting more and more difficult for American horses to win there because of the new track layout and the synthetic,” Baffert said. “We’re going to leave all options open for now.”

Baffert trains Game On Dude for a partnership that includes Bernie Schiappa, who, along with Baffert, thought Game On Dude was unjustly denied the Eclipse Award as champion older horse last year, when the title went to Acclamation. Referring to Eclipse Award voters who opted for other choices, Schiappa said, “We’re going to show them” this year.)

The Big Cap field is also expected to include Ultimate Eagle, who was a dazzling winner of the Strub Stakes on Saturday, and Setsuko, who won an allowance race on Saturday in his first start since being gelded. Setsuko just missed in last year’s Big Cap.

Absent from the Santa Anita Handicap will be Tapizar, who faded to fourth as the 4-5 favorite in the Strub, beaten nearly 11 lengths by Ultimate Eagle. Tapizar had won the San Fernando Stakes three weeks earlier.

“He came out of the race good,” said Steve Asmussen, who trains Tapizar. “I think he took a step back off a big race, running three weeks later, and the winner ran an incredible race.”