[cleeng_content id="170427148" description="Read it now!" price="0.15" t="article"]Ask 20 knowledgeable people soaked in thoroughbred racing who the most talented handicap horse in training is these days and at least half of them will name Game On Dude.
Now six years old, the dark bay gelding has won three straight stakes for part-owner Joe Torre and silver-thatched trainer, Bob Baffert.
One of those wins was last year in December, but here in 2013 he has impressive victories in California in the San Antonio Stakes and the Santa Anita Handicap.
In 24 lifetime races, Game On Dude has gotten 12 wins and nearly $4 million in earnings.
Some of that money came when Baffert brought the then four-year-old to Charles Town for the 2011 Classic, which was then a $1 million race.
From an outside post position and faced with an off track in the 2011 Charles Town Classic, Game On Dude broke well and easily settled into second place. He assumed the lead nearing the end of the backstretch and had no excuse when collared in the stretch by Duke of Mischief at the tailend of the 1 1/8-miles graded stakes.
Here in 2013, the Charles Town Classic is a Grade II race with an attention-getting $1.5 million purse. The distance is still 1 1/8-miles and the race still is positioned in a spot on the calendar where it doesn’t have any great competition from other tracks.
The April 20 date is ideal for Baffert and Game on Dude, as is the $1 million reward for the winning thoroughbred.
And so, the horse many consider the country’s best older horse will be coming back to Charles Town.
In winning the just-held Santa Anita Handicap, Game On Dude was ridden by Mike Smith, the smiling and affable jockey whose own record is stacked with graded stakes wins by the armload.
In the past two-and-a-half years, Game on Dude has proven both durable and talented. Being a gelding, Torre and his cadre of other part-owners will keep him on the track as long as his health is good and his race results are even better.
The recent Santa Anita Handicap was a Grade I event. Game On Dude had won it in 2011 making him one of only four thoroughbreds (John Henry, Milwaukee Brew and Lava Man) to win it twice.
In that race, Smith and Game On Dude broke sharply from the far outside and quickly moved across to the rail and settled into a running stride that had them nearly two lengths in front of the classy field.
Smith set an honest but not redhot pace and Game On Dude was so calm and satisfied that it didn’t seem that he ever took a deep breath. Two horses moved up to within a length of the lead as the last turn came into view.
At that point, Game On Dude began to leave them again. It took no apparent effort. In 80 yards, he had moved his lead to nearly three lengths.
In the Santa Anita stretch, Smith seemed along just for the ride. Game On Dude kept putting effortless distance between himself and the others, who by then were vying for second-place money.
He won by nearly eight lengths in a performace called “commanding” by track announcer, Trevor Denman, and the “best performance in some time” by California writers.
The Santa Anita crowd of nearly 27,000 and nationwide simulcast bettors made Game On Dude a 6-5 favorite. He paid $4.60 to win.
Jockey Smith smiled his way through post-race interviews and willingly told those assembled: “He knocked it out of the park today, he really did, it was extremely impressive,” said Smith, who was winning the Santa Anita Handicap for the first time. “He broke really well. I got on over as quick as I could and it worked out really well.”
Smith continued with his critique of the race, “He got into this great rhythm he has; he’s got a real high cruising speed, and he was well within himself the whole way.
“On race day, he’s a cool, calm horse, but once you saddle him and get him out onto the track, and especially into the gate, he’s really ready and he hears everything. He rocks back and forth in the gate. If they pick his tail up, it makes him stand still. They have been taking him over in the morning to work on it. It has been working so far.”
Joe Torre was away managing the the United States team in the World Baseball Classic and missed the race.
Trainer Baffert was his usual wellspring of words. He said, “I think Mike gets along with him well. He must have given him a breather along there somewhere, but the thing about ‘Dude’, he’s got to go along at a fast clip. The horse is just a great horse. What he showed today was amazing. He’s developed into such a great horse.”
Even a continent removed from West Virginia, Baffert could see the future. “I don’t know. Charles Town is really enticing. It’s a million dollars to the winner and we known he likes that track. I’ll see how he comes out of this race.”
Baffert has now decided to come back to the Charles Town Classic for the second time in three years.
He will use the April 20 race as a step to the November Breeders’ Cup Classic to be staged at Santa Anita. “Hopefully, we’ll keep him healthy and keep him at this level. He’s going to have to take a break somewhere along the line, but the way he’s running right now is pretty incredible.”
When he’s standing still in the Charles Town starting gate in the seconds before the Classic starts, Game On Dude will be taking another step on his speculative trail to the Breeders’ Cup Classic in the fall.[/cleeng_content]