03/05/2011 9:39PM

Santa Anita Handicap: Game On Dude avoids DQ while nosing out Setsuko

Benoit & Associates
Game On Dude (inside) enables Chantal Sutherland to become the first female jockey to win the Santa Anita Handicap by barely overtaking Setsuko.

ARCADIA, Calif.- Game On Dude won a controversial running of the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap on Saturday, giving jockey Chantal Sutherland the distinction of being the first woman rider to win the historic race – and the first woman rider to be booed as she rode into the winner’s circle.

Game On Dude survived a 12-minute inquiry by track stewards into a bumping incident in early stretch involving the 14-1 winner, runner-up Setsuko, and 1-2 favorite Twirling Candy.

After a lengthy review, stewards Scott Chaney, Kim Sawyer, and Tom Ward voted 2-1 to not change the order of finish, ruling that Twirling Candy initiated contact that led to bumping between the horses. The stewards ruled that Twirling Candy drifted to the inside, struck Game On Dude and caused the winner to tip to the outside, resulting in a chain reaction of bumping among Game on Dude, Twirling Candy, and Setsuko, who raced farthest wide.

Chaney and Ward voted to make no change, while Sawyer argued for a disqualification, Ward said.

The decision was met with a chorus of boos from the ontrack crowd of 23,304, a reaction that surprised Sutherland, 35. The victory was her fourth win of the meeting.

“I’ve never heard anyone boo me – not even in New York,” she said.

Sutherland said Game On Dude was slightly in front of Twirling Candy when the bumping occurred.

“It looks in the head-on that we’re side by side but I was in front,” she said. “He was at my flank. I knew in the race, I wasn’t coming down.”

Setsuko, a 25-1 shot, led by a head over Game On Dude at the eighth pole, with Twirling Candy another length behind. Game On Dude slowly caught Setsuko in the final furlong and won by a nose.

“We were behind a little bit and I just started riding,” Sutherland said of the stretch run. ”A couple of jumps from the wire I thought we could do it.”

Game On Dude ($31.60) ran 1 1/4 miles in 1:59.47.

Game On Dude was always near the front, racing within a half-length of First Dude and Aggie Engineer, who dueled through early fractions of 22.95 and 46.73 seconds for the first half-mile.

Quindici Man, the second-longest shot in the field at 69-1, closed from eighth to finish third, followed by Soul Candy, Twirling Candy, First Dude, Tweebster, Spurrier, Aggie Engineer, Gladding, and Pode Ir.

The victory gave trainer Bob Baffert his second consecutive win in the Big Cap, which he won last year with Misremembered. He trains Game On Dude for Terry Lanni, Mercedes Stable, and Bernie Schiappa. Game On Dude, a 4-year-old gelding by Awesome Again, has won 4 of 8 starts and $852,658. Last year, he was seventh in the Florida Derby and fourth in the Belmont Stakes, his only previous starts in Grade 1 races.

Richard Mandella, who trains Setsuko, was visibly upset after the race, and declined to comment. Craig Lewis, who trains Quindici Man, praised his starter, a 5-year-old gelding who was Grade 1 placed for the first time in his 32nd career start.

“I’d like to say I’m surprised but I’m not,” Lewis said.” He’s an iron horse. Everyone should own one like him. He gives all he can every time. He just keeps coming.”

Twirling Candy, who had won the Malibu Stakes in December and the Strub Stakes in February, to earn the role of favorite, was rank for the first half-mile and raced four-wide on the backstretch. He was as close as second, a half-length behind Game on Dude on the turn, but faded after the bumping incident to lose by 5 1/4 lengths.

 “They bumped him real hard inside and out,” jockey Joel Rosario said.