The crowd of 27,121 at Santa Anita Park gave Game On Dude a rousing ovation when he returned to the winner’s circle after a history-making performance in the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap on Saturday.
The 7-year-old gelding became the first horse in the history of the Big ’Cap – a race won by legends such as Seabiscuit, Round Table, Ack Ack, Affirmed, Spectacular Bid, John Henry, Alysheba and Tiznow to name just a handful – to win the race three times and the significance of the achievement was not lost on Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.
“To me, it’s an emotional win for the horse,” Baffert said. “It kills me when they knock on him, but we came in here quiet and that’s the way I like to come in. We came in under the radar and we were ready for them.”
Game On Dude won the Santa Anita Handicap by a nose in 2011 and by 7 ¾ lengths in 2013, but his third Big ’Cap victory will be remembered as his most impressive.
This year, Game On Dude prevailed over a field that included the top two finishers from the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic in Mucho Macho Man and Will Take Charge. And, he won the race by putting those two familiar rivals away after setting the pace through an incredibly fast opening half-mile in :45.39.
Game On Dude went right to the front and he dared the opposition to come and get him. After a dazzling three-quarters of a mile in 1:09.39, Mucho Macho Man and Will Take Charge rallied up alongside Game On Dude to set up the battle everyone had anticipated.
Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith asked Game On Dude to accelerate and he put a little more distance between himself and his two challengers. At that point, it was clear Mucho Macho Man was not going to get by game On Dude and he dropped back, but the ever-game Will Take Charge kept coming at him through the entire stretch. Game On Dude would not be denied his spot in the history books, however, and he held off Will Take Charge to prevail by 1 ¾ lengths in 1:58.17, smashing the previous Santa Anita Handicap record of 1:58.60 set by Affirmed in 1979.
The only horse ever to win the Big ’Cap three times AND a new stakes record … not a bad day at the track for Game On Dude.
GAME ON DUDE PULLS AWAY FROM WILL TAKE CHARGE
Photo by Eclipse Sportswire
The Awesome Again gelding boosted his career earning to $6,163,893 with his 16th win in 31 lifetime starts. Game On Dude has eight Grade 1 wins and probably a future reservation in the Racing Hall of Fame.
Game On Dude entered the Big ’Cap off a disappointing fifth-place finish in the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes on Feb. 8 at Santa Anita.
“I felt a whole lot more confident in the post parade today than I did in his last race,” Smith said. “[Baffert] told me I would have a different horse this time and he had him ready. He was training like it and he showed it out there today.
“He was on his toes today; he was on fire. He’s like that when he runs well.”
Said Baffert: “They went fast but he was rockin’, he was rollin’. The Dude showed up. Last time [the San Antonio], he wasn’t ready. ... He had to do it today. I just told Mike Smith, ‘When they expect you to be on the lead, you have to be on the lead. Just let him rip, do his thing and if it happens, it happens.’ ”
Baffert trains Game On Dude for former New York Yankees manager Joe Torre’s Diamond Pride LLC, Lanni Family Trust, Mercedes Stable and Bernie Schiappa.
Will Take Charge finished eight lengths clear of third-place finisher Blingo as the 3-to-2 second choice in the betting. Mucho Macho Man faded to fourth as the 6-to-5 favorite.
For an Equibase chart, click here.
HISTORIC WIN FOR GAME ON DUDE
Photo by Eclipse Sportswire