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Co-owner Joe Torre (left) leads Game On Dude to the winner's circle after the 2013 Pacific Classic Stakes. (All photos by Eclipse Sportswire)

Game On Dude may be a son of Awesome Again out of a Devil His Due mare, but somewhere in his pedigree there has to be the blood of a Phoenix.

Each time he’s written off after a dull effort, the 8-time Grade 1 winner somehow manages to rise from those ashes and turn in a sensational effort that makes his critics wonder why they ever doubted him.

It’s happened before and it could turn out to be a main storyline once again in Sunday’s $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar (8:45 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network), where the 7-year-old gelding who seems to have a lost a step or two will tackle “The New Gelding In Town,” the unbeaten 3-year-old Shared Belief.

Shared Belief, the reigning 2-year-old champion, is the 5-to-2 morning-line favorite, putting Game On Dude in the underdog role that has so often brought out the best in him.

To help refresh the memory, after finishing 12th in the 2012 Dubai World Cup, he returned to the United States and won the Grade 2 Californian and Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.

Later that year, when Horse of the Year honors were on the table, he finished seventh as the 1.30-to-1 favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

The gelding returned in 2013 and reeled off six straight wins, a streak that featured triumphs in the Santa Anita Handicap and Hollywood Gold Cup and a spectacular 8 ½-length wipeout in the Pacific Classic.

GAME ON DUDE'S 2013 PACIFIC CLASSIC ROMP

Dude 2013Pac Classic

Then with Horse of the Year laurels once again within his grasp, he finished ninth in a field of 11 as the 1.70-to-1 favorite in the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic.

A runner-up finish in the Clark Handicap and a fifth in the Grade 2 San Antonio to start 2014 once again emboldened his critics, who were promptly silenced when he ran a hole in the wind and won the Santa Anita Handicap by 1 ¾ lengths in the dazzling time of 1:58.17 for the 1 ¼ miles.

Now after a second-place finish at 3-to-5 odds in the Charles Town Classic and a worrisome 12 1/2-length loss while finishing fourth at 4-to-5 in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita in his last start, the doubters are back in full bloom as he takes on Shared Belief; Gold Cup winner Majestic Harbor; Clubhouse Ride, who beat Game On Dude in the Californian; Cougar II winner Irish Surf and six others in an outstanding edition of the Pacific Classic.

The talk of the race is the other gelding, Shared Belief, who will be tackling 1 ¼ miles for the first time in just his sixth career start, rather than Game On Dude with his considerable experience at the distance and more than $6.4-million in career earnings.

Baffert, though, knows better than most how resilient Game On Dude can be and how formidable he can be when he’s at his best. He says there have been some signals of that brilliance lately.

“Yes, he looks good. I really think he’s training like he was prepping for [the Pacific Classic] last year. He likes the surface [at Del Mar].  He gets over it really well,” Baffert said during a National Thoroughbred Racing Association teleconference. “He had a great work. His last two works were really great. He’s really getting over the track well, and so it’s exciting.

“You know, last year I didn’t think I could have him back here at this level again. When he brings his ‘A’ game, nobody can beat him and I really think he’s doing well. So if he throws that ‘A’ race, he’s just he's tough to beat.”

BAFFERT HAS ENJOYED PLENTY OF HIGHLIGHTS WITH GAME ON DUDE

Dude Baffert 14Big Cap Eclipse

In a sign of the times, Game On Dude’s regular rider, Mike Smith, will not be aboard last year’s Pacific Classic winner. Smith also is Shared Belief’s jockey and choosing between a 3-year-old gelding and a 7-year-old gelding led to what he termed a “difficult” decision that had a rather obvious choice.

“Yes, [it was an] extremely difficult decision. You know, Game On Dude, man, when he shows up and runs his ‘A-plus’ race, there's not too many in the world period that can outrun him. So, he's going to be very, very difficult to beat,” Smith said during the NTRA teleconference. “You know, this decision just came down to more of anything that Shared Belief is three and has a few good years left ahead of him, whereas Game On Dude is seven and I’m not too sure how much longer his racing career will be after this year. That’s just kind of the way you’ve got to look at it.”

So on Sunday, it will be Smith on Shared Belief, who drew the tricky post 11, with Martin Garcia on the 3-to-1 morning-line second choice, Game On Dude, who has post five, in a turn of events that even Baffert understands.

“When Shared Belief won the Los Alamitos Derby, I thought, ‘oh, I'm going to need a new jockey,’ ” Baffert said. “I really can't blame Mike. Mike's been great. He's helped out. He’s taught me a lot of things about this horse when he first got on him that we didn’t know. So, he’s been a big factor in the success of Game On Dude, and he knows we have Martin backed up.

“[Mike is] a real classy gentleman, and he’s going with the younger gelding, which I really can’t blame him. Nobody knows how good Shared Belief is. This is probably going to be the toughest test that he’s ever had. So, I really can’t blame him for maybe trying something else. He knew that if he did it, that I wasn’t going to throw a fit about it or anything like that. I understood. I don't have a problem with it.”

A bigger problem for Smith would be if the old Game On Dude shows up on Sunday. Smith knows how dangerous the accomplished gelding can be if left by his lonesome on the front end as he was in last year’s Pacific Classic. That could force Smith to move earlier than desired with Shared Belief.

On paper, it has the makings of a sensational race. There are those, though, who believe it may not come to pass. They can point to the Gold Cup at Santa Anita, when he chased the front-running Fury Kapcori and tired badly in the stretch, and say the game is coming to an end for “The Dude.” The days have passed when he could run opponents into the ground with a blistering :45.39 opening half-mile and then hold sway in the stretch like did in the Santa Anita Handicap last March.

Yet, it’s that same Santa Anita Handicap that illustrates what can happen when you simply dismiss Game On Dude.

Let’s not forget, he’s part Awesome Again … and part Phoenix.

GAME ON DUDE WINNING THE 2014 SANTA ANITA HANDICAP

Dude 2014Big Cap Eclipse

red white blue Bar

(también en Español)

Subestimar a el Dude es un Juego Peligroso

Game On Dude puede ser un hijo de Awesome Again en madre por Devil His Due, pero en algún lugar de su pedigrí tiene que estar ahí la sangre de un Fénix.

Cada vez que de él se escriben críticas luego de un pobre esfuerzo, el 8 veces ganador de Grados 1 se las arregla de algún modo para levantarse desde las cenizas y realizar una gran actuación que hace que sus críticos se pregunten por qué ellos dudaron de él.

Ha ocurrido antes y pudiese nuevamente volver a ser la historia principal este Domingo en el $1 millón Pacific Classic en Del Mar (8:45 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network), donde el castrado de 7 años de edad, quien parece haber perdido un paso o dos en su mejor forma, irá al ataque del “Nuevo Castrado del Pueblo” el imbatible 3 años de edad, Shared Belief.

Shared Belief, el campeón reinante de los dos años de edad, es el favorito 5-a-2 en la línea matinal, poniendo a Game On Dude en el rol de lance o sorpresa que a menudo ha conseguido sacar lo mejor de él.

Para ayudar a refrescar la memoria, después de finalizar 12mo en la 2012 Dubai World Cup, él volvió a Los Estados Unidos y ganó el Grado 2 Californian y el Grado 1 Hollywood Gold Cup para el entrenador miembro del Salón de la Fama, Bob Baffert.

Más tarde ese mismo año, cuando los honores para elegir al Caballo del Año estaban sobre el tapete, remató séptimo como el 1.30-a-1 favorito en la Breeders’ Cup Classic.

El castrado retornó en el 2013 y enhebró una trama de seis victorias consecutivas, una racha que tuvo entre otros triunfos el Santa Anita Handicap, el Hollywood Gold Cup y un explosiva demostración en el Pacific Classic, el cual ganó por 8 ½ cuerpos.

GAME ON DUDE AL GALOPE EN EL 2013 PACIFIC CLASSIC 

Dude 2013Pac Classic

Y entonces, con los laureles del Caballo del Año una vez más en sus manos, finalizó noveno en un grupo de 11 como el 1.70-a-1 favorito en la 2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Luego llegó segundo en el Clark Handicap y 5to en el Grado 2 San Antonio para comenzar el 2014 donde sus muy animosos críticos fueron prontamente silenciados cuando corriendo sin respiro ganó el Santa Anita Handicap por 1 ¾ cuerpos en el deslumbrante tiempo de 1:58.17 para 1 ¼ de milla.

Ahora, después de un segundo lugar a dividendos de 3-a-5 en el Charles Town Classic y su alarmante fracaso a 12 1/2-cuerpos cuando finalizó cuarto cuando pagaba sólo 4-a-5 en el Gold Cup en Santa Anita en su última salida, los dudosos están nuevamente floreciendo para su encuentro con Shared Belief; el ganador del Gold Cup Majestic HarborClubhouse Ride, quien venció a Game On Dude en el Californian; Irish Surf, ganador del Cougar II y otros seis más, en una destacada edición del Pacific Classic.

La atracción de la prueba es el otro castrado, Shared Belief, quien estará intentando los 1 ¼ de milla por primera vez en sólo seis salidas a la pista, en oposición a Game On Dude con su considerable experiencia en la distancia y más de $6.4-millones en premios obtenidos.

Baffert, sin embargo, sabe mejor que todos cuánto poder de recuperación tiene Game On Dude y cuán formidable es él cuando está en la mejor de sus formas. Dice que ha habido recientemente algunas señales de esa brillantez.

“Sí, él luce bien. Pienso que está entrenando tal como lo hiciera para el (Pacific Classic] año pasado. Le encanta la superficie [en Del Mar].  Lo está tomando realmente bien,” dijo Baffert durante una teleconferencia de la National Thoroughbred Racing Association . “Ha hecho un gran trabajo. Sus últimos dos ejercicios fueron realmente grandiosos. Está afirmándose bien sobre la pista, y eso es para entusiasmarse.

“Tú sabes, el último año yo no pensaba que pudiese tenerlo nuevamente en este nivel. Cuando él ofrece su actuación ‘A’, nadie puede derrotarlo y realmente creo que lo está haciendo muy bien. Así que si él brinda esa carrera ‘A’, será muy difícil de vencer.”

BAFFERT HA DISFRUTADO MOMENTOS CULMINANTES CON GAME ON DUDE

Dude Baffert 14Big Cap Eclipse 

En un signo de los tiempos, el jinete habitual de Game On Dude, Mike Smith, no estará a bordo del ganador del Pacific Classic del año pasado. Smith también es el jinete de Shared Belief y teniendo que escoger entre un castrado de 3 años y uno de 7, concluyó en lo que llama “una muy difícil decisión” en vez de lo que hubiese sido, más bien, una chance obvia.

“Sí, [fue una] extremadamente difícil decisión. Tú sabes, Game On Dude, hombre, cuando él se muestra y corre su carrera ‘A-más’, no hay demasiados en el mundo que puedan someterlo. Así que, él va a ser muy, pero muy difícil de batir,” dijo Smith durante la teleconferencia de la NTRA. “Tú sabes, esta decisión tiene que ver más que nada con el hecho de que Shared Belief tiene tres años y unos cuantos años buenos por delante, en tanto Game On Dude tiene siete y no estoy seguro cuán larga podrá ser su carrera más allá de este año. Es la clase de camino que tienes que mirar.”

De modo que el Domingo, estará Smith en Shared Belief, a quien le tocó un inquietante cajón 11, mientras Martin García estará en el 3-a-1 segundo favorito de la línea matinal, Game On Dude, a quien le tocó un cajón cinco, en un giro de acontecimientos que incluso Baffert entiende.

“Cuando Shared Belief ganó Los Alamitos Derby, yo pensé, ‘oh, creo que voy a necesitar un nuevo jinete,’ ” dijo Baffert. “Realmente no puedo culpar a Mike. Mike ha sido grande siempre. Nos ayudó mucho. Me enseñó un montón de cosas acerca de este caballo la primera vez que lo montó, cosas que no sabíamos. Así que, él ha sido un gran factor en el éxito de Game On Dude, y sabe que tenemos a Martin arriba.

“[Mike es] un verdadero caballero de clase, y él está yéndose con el castrado más joven, por lo que no puedo culparlo. Nadie sabe cuán bueno es Shared Belief. Probablemente éste va a ser el examen más duro que ha tenido. De modo que, realmente no puedo culparlo por tratar algo nuevo. Sabía que si lo hacía, no iba a pensar mal de él o algo como eso. Lo comprendí. No tengo problemas con él.”

Un problema mayor para Smith sería si el viejo Game On Dude aparece el domingo. Smith sabe cuán peligroso el calificado castrado puede ser si es dejado por sí solo en la punta del lote, tal como fue en el Pacific Classic del año pasado. Eso podría forzar a Smith a moverse más tempranamente de lo deseado con Shared Belief.

En el papel, tiene los antecedentes de una carrera sensacional. Hay aquellos, sin embargo, quienes creen que eso no pasará. Ellos pueden apuntar al Gold Cup en Santa Anita, cuando persiguió al puntero del lote Fury Kapcori y se cansó feamente en la recta, y dicen por tanto que el juego se está acabando para “The Dude.” Han pasado los días cuando él podía desairar a sus oponentes con unos candentes: 45.39 para la milla de apertura y luego sostenerlos cómodamente en la recta como lo hizo en el Santa Anita Handicap el pasado Marzo.

Pero, es ese mismo Santa Anita Handicap el que ilustra lo que ocurre cuando simplemente subestimas a Game On Dude.

No se olviden, él es en parte Awesome Again … y en parte un Fénix.

GAME ON DUDE GANANDO EL 2014 SANTA ANITA HANDICAP

Dude 2014Big Cap Eclipse

$1-million Pacific Classic Stakes
Sunday, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, Race 10, 9:30 p.m. ET
1 1/4 miles, synthetic, 3-year-olds and older
Television coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network

PP

Horse

Jockey

Trainer

1

Frac Daddy

Alan Garcia

Ken McPeek

2

Irish Surf 

Elvis Trujillo

Dan Hendricks

3

Imperative

Kent Desormeaux

George Papaprodromou

4

Ice Cream Truck 

Tiago Pereira

A. C. Avila

5

Game On Dude

Martin Garcia 

Bob Baffert 

6

You Know I Know

Edwin Maldonado

John Sadler

7

Majestic Harbor

Tyler Baze

Sean McCarthy

8

Toast of New York

Victor Espinoza

Jamie Osborne

9

Clubhouse Ride

Joseph Talamo

Craig Anthony Lewis

10

Mystery Train (ARG)

Fernando Perez

Darrell Vienna

11

Shared Belief

Mike Smith

Jerry Hollendorfer 

Image Description

Bob Ehalt

Bob Ehalt has been an avid fan of Thoroughbred racing since that day in June of 1971 when he and his father walked from their Queens Village, N.Y., home to Belmont Park to see Canonero II fall short in his bid for the Triple Crown. A veteran sports writer and correspondent for Thoroughbred Times magazine, Bob has covered horse racing for more than 20 years and has won three awards in the Associated Press Sports Editors national writing contest for his coverage of the sport.

Now working at the New Haven Register in Connecticut, Bob has also owned Thoroughbreds since 1995 and was a member of the syndicate that raced Tale of the Cat. He also writes a racing blog for ESPNNewYork.com and is the co-founder of the New York Hot List handicapping service, which is offered at InterBets.com.

His NTRA.com blog received first-place honors in the 2008-09 Breeders' Cup Media Awards, winning in the initial year of competition in the Social Media category.  You can follow him on Twitter at @BobEhalt

 

Image Description

Bob Ehalt

Bob Ehalt has been an avid fan of Thoroughbred racing since that day in June of 1971 when he and his father walked from their Queens Village, N.Y., home to Belmont Park to see Canonero II fall short in his bid for the Triple Crown. A veteran sports writer and correspondent for Thoroughbred Times magazine, Bob has covered horse racing for more than 20 years and has won three awards in the Associated Press Sports Editors national writing contest for his coverage of the sport.

Now working at the New Haven Register in Connecticut, Bob has also owned Thoroughbreds since 1995 and was a member of the syndicate that raced Tale of the Cat. He also writes a racing blog for ESPNNewYork.com and is the co-founder of the New York Hot List handicapping service, which is offered at InterBets.com.

His NTRA.com blog received first-place honors in the 2008-09 Breeders' Cup Media Awards, winning in the initial year of competition in the Social Media category.  You can follow him on Twitter at @BobEhalt

 

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