Turns out the Candy Ride colt is pretty good sprinting, too.
Sent off as the 8-5 second choice against 7-10 favorite and stablemate Roadster, Game Winner closed late on the outside to pass runaway pacesetter Rowayton and win by 1 ½ lengths under jockey Mario Gutierrez. Roadster, who made a simultaneous move in the turn with Game Winner, could not match his stablemate's kick and finished third, a half-length behind Rowayton.
"(Baffert) told me, 'You know how to ride good horses. Go ahead and ride him like you can,'" said Gutierrez, who rarely gets mounts from the Hall of Fame trainer. "He said he wanted me to give him a little help out of the gate, then he said he thought he'd be strong for the finish. He was so right."
Rowayton, asked for run out of the gate by jockey Drayden Van Dyke, sprinted several lengths clear of the field in the backstretch. Rowayton still held a 2 ½-length advantage with a furlong to run, but struggled to switch leads in the stretch and could not hold off Game Winner, who finished off the seven-furlong test in 1:23.18.
"That was the plan – to just go for it," Van Dyke said. "He did and he ran good. He fought me on changing leads ... but he'll learn. He'll get better."
Gutierrez and Baffert celebrate. (Eclipse Sportswire)
The victory was Baffert's record 14th in the Futurity, with Game Winner joining horses such as American Pharoah, Lookin At Lucky, and Silver Charm. The colt debuted Aug. 18 with a 5 3/4-length win sprinting six furlongs at Del Mar.
"Going down the backside (Rowayton) was way out there, and sometimes, if you get out there like that, you can steal a race," Baffert said. "I just hoped my guys knew they were in good spots. I knew they'd have to sprint home. I knew coming in that (Game Winner) was coming back a little quick, but he's a big, strong, heavy horse, and I knew he could handle it. I'd rather run him again than keep working him.
"I'm a little disappointed in (Roadster), but was only his second outing and sometimes the second out ... they can get a little flat on you."
Jockey Mike Smith also expressed surprise in Roadster's performance.
"I don't know what to say," Smith said. "I'm at a loss for words. I thought he'd run a whole lot better."