02/06/2014 2:41PM

Santa Anita: San Antonio familiar territory for Game On Dude


ARCADIA, Calif. – Mike Smith walked off the track at Churchill Downs on Nov. 29 upset with himself over the results of the Grade 1 Clark Handicap.

Smith rode Game On Dude, who finished second by a head to Will Take Charge, the eventual 3-year-old champion male. Game On Dude led by 2 1/2 lengths in the stretch and was caught near the wire. Smith blamed himself.

“I think I moved too soon,” he said last week.

[Robert B. Lewis Stakes: Get PPs, watch Saturday's card live]

Expect a cool ride from Smith when Game On Dude makes his 2014 debut in Saturday’s $300,000 San Antonio Stakes over 1 1/8 miles at Santa Anita. The Grade 2 San Antonio is familiar territory for Game On Dude, a 7-year-old gelding. In 2012 and 2013, Game On Dude made his first start of the year in the San Antonio and won easily.

Saturday, Game On Dude can be the first horse to win the race three times.

Game On Dude is part of a field of seven in the San Antonio, the fifth race on Saturday’s nine-race program. Trained by Bob Baffert, Game On Dude will be a heavy favorite to win the 14th stakes of his career. The San Antonio is a prep for the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap on March 8.

“He’s been healthy,” Baffert said. “This should set him up for the Big Cap.”

Game On Dude customarily races on or near the lead. He led throughout the 2013 San Antonio, winning by 6 1/2 lengths, and throughout the 2013 Santa Anita Handicap, winning by a record 7 3/4 lengths. The same occurred in the Pacific Classic last August, a victory by a record margin of 8 1/4 lengths.

Game On Dude has not won since. He was ninth as the 8-5 favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Classic here on Nov. 2. The Clark Handicap was four weeks later.

Smith said that the long stretch at Churchill worked against him.

“I think I wanted to move on Will Take Charge,” he said. “I wanted to put some air between us.

“I did just get beat. The lane is a little longer there. Here, it would have worked.”

In the San Antonio, Game On Dude could face early pressure from Blueskiesnrainbows, who won the Grade 2 San Pasqual Handicap going 1 1/16 miles here on Jan. 11.

The San Antonio will be the first meeting between Game On Dude and Blueskiesnrainbows since the Pacific Classic, when Blueskiesnrainbows faded to finish last of 12.

Since then, Blueskiesnrainbows has won 3 of 5 starts, and was second in the BC Marathon over 1 3/4 miles on Nov. 1. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer has seen improvement in the 5-year-old Blueskiesnrainbows in recent months.

“Some horses are different horses when they get older,” Hollendorfer said.

In the San Pasqual, Blueskiesnrainbows finished 1 1/4 lengths in front of 17-1 Majestic Harbor, who returns for the San Antonio. Trained by Sean McCarthy, Majestic Harbor had a wide trip and still managed his first graded stakes placing.

McCarthy is hoping for a stalking trip in the San Antonio. He fears Game On Dude and Blueskiesnrainbows.

“I’d like to see him sit third or so,” McCarthy said of Majestic Harbor. “I hope to win but the other two will be tough.”