Updated on 02/29/2012 8:28PM

Santa Anita Handicap: Game On Dude passing race for Dubai World Cup

Shigeki Kikkawa
Game On Dude won't defend his Big Cap title and will instead run in Dubai on March 31.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Ultimate Eagle has inherited the role of favorite for Saturday’s $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap following the defection of Game On Dude on Wednesday.

Game On Dude is bound for the $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 31, trainer Bob Baffert said. His absence leaves Santa Anita’s richest race for older horses without its defending champion and the runner-up in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs.
Baffert said that he and the owners of Game On Dude debated starting in the Big Cap or Dubai World Cup before settling on the World Cup.

“We’ve been discussing it for the last few weeks,” he said. “It was one of those things where the horse’s last work was great. He’s never looked better. I’ve never won a $10 million race. We’ve got a gelding whose doing great. There is excitement going to Dubai.”
Baffert has won two runnings of the Dubai World Cup – with Silver Charm in 1998 when the race was worth $4 million, and with Captain Steve in 2001 when the race was worth $6 million.

Last year, Baffert considered sending Game On Dude to Dubai after the Big Cap win, but decided against it.

“I remember last year after I ran him [in the Big Cap] he only had two weeks and then we would have had to ship,” Baffert said. “I was going to go last year and he wasn’t ready to be put on the plane. He runs really hard. His style is to let all it hang out.
“It would be easier for me to stay here and run. It’s a hardship for me to leave my barn in the middle of the 3-year-old season.”

Ultimate Eagle is the 5-2 morning-line favorite for the Big Cap and will start as the 120-pound topweight in a field of 13. He is the colt the others will be chasing in the Big Cap, which is run over 1 1/4 miles.

Ultimate Eagle races on the lead. The absence of Game On Dude left B.J. Wright, owner of Ultimate Eagle, with “mixed feelings.”

“Baffert thinks he has a candidate for Horse of the Year, and we think we can beat him,” Wright said.

The Big Cap will be the last of 11 races on Saturday’s program, which begins at noon. From the rail, the field comprises Uh Oh Bango, Ultimate Eagle, Ron the Greek, Boxeur des Rues, Thirtyfirststreet, Twice the Appeal, Fiddlers Afleet, Gladding, Setsuko, Norvsky, Prayer for Relief, Holladay Road, and Victory Pete.

Baffert has a starter in Prayer for Relief, winner of three graded stakes last year. Norvsky was a late addition to the field. He won the Grade 2 San Gabriel Stakes on turf Jan. 16 and was third in the Grade 2 San Marcos Stakes over 1 1/4 miles on turf Feb. 11.

Prayer for Relief and Norvsky are among six graded stakes winners in 2011 and 2012 in the field, joined by Gladding, Twice the Appeal, Uh Oh Bango, and Ultimate Eagle. Holladay Road, Ron the Greek, and Thirtyfirststreet won lesser stakes, while Setsuko and Victory Pete placed in graded stakes in that time. Boxeur Des Rues and Fiddlers Afleet, who will be longshots, have not won or placed in stakes. Setsuko was second in the 2011 Big Cap, losing by a nose to Game On Dude.

Uh Oh Bango won the Grade 2 San Pasqual Stakes over 1 1/16 miles on Jan. 7 and was second by 5 1/4 lengths to Game On Dude in the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes on Feb. 5. The Big Cap will be Uh Oh Bango’s first start over 1 1/4 miles.

Uh Oh Bango’s trainer, Kory Owens, was hoping that Game On Dude and Ultimate Eagle would take each other out of contention in a speed duel. With Game On Dude out, Owens is hoping that Gladding, winner of the 2011 San Antonio Stakes, is a presence near Ultimate Eagle. Either way, jockey Mike Smith is likely to have Uh Oh Bango a few lengths off the pace, assessing the situation the first time through the stretch.

“I think it’s up to Mike to see how it looks,” Owens said. “He’s got a quarter-mile to the turn to see where he wants to be on the backstretch. We hoped Ultimate Eagle and Game On Dude would hook up.

“Now, we have to hope that Gladding hooks up. I don’t think it will be as quick.”

Dubai World Cup winners

Year Horse Trainer Country
2011 Victoire Pisa Katsuhiko Sumii Japan
2010 Gloria de Campeao Pascal Bary United Arab Emirates
2009 Well Armed Eoin Harty United States
2008 Curlin Steve Asmussen United States
2007 Invasor Kiaran McLaughlin United States
2006 Electrocutionist Saeed bin Suroor Great Britain
2005 Roses in May Dale Romans United States
2004 Pleasantly Perfect Richard Mandella United States
2003 Moon Ballad Saeed bin Suroor Great Britain
2002 Street Cry Saeed bin Suroor United States/UAE
2001 Captain Steve Bob Baffert United States
2000 Dubai Millennium Saeed bin Suroor Great Britain
1999 Almutawakel Saeed bin Suroor Great Britain/France
1998 Silver Charm Bob Baffert United States
1997 Singspiel Michael Stoute Great Britain
1996 Cigar Bill Mott United States