Blingo came from off the pace for his first graded stakes score as heavily favored Game On Dude and Blueskiesnrainbows flamed out in the $300,000 San Antonio Stakes (gr. II) Feb. 8 at Santa Anita Park (VIDEO).
Seven-year-old Game On Dude was an eager beaver at the start of the 1 1/8-mile San Antonio and it cost the 3-10 favorite dearly as he battled speedy Blueskiesnrainbows through swift quarter mile fractions of :22.75, :46.25, and 1:10.17 on a fast track.
By the time they reached the far turn, both front-runners were in deep water as outsider Imperative, ridden craftily by Kent Desormeaux, challenged at the rail and Majestic Harbor ranged up on the outside.
After tracking those rivals around the bend, Blingo, ridden by Aaron Gryder, found room to the inside of Majestic Harbor to challenge for the lead in upper stretch. Blingo and Imperative separated themselves in the drive as the others fell away. Blingo, under left-handed urging on the outside, prevailed by half a length at odds of 15-1 over a game Imperative, a 25-1 chance. The final time was a solid 1:47.95.
The first two combined for a $565.20 exacta, and with bridge jumpers out in force for Game On Dude, the show payoffs were tremendous. Blingo paid $33.80, $11.40, and $27.20, while Imperative returned $12.20 and $22.40. American Blend, off at 19-1, finished 4 1/4 lengths farther back in third and paid $25.80 to show.
Gryder said he was happy with his position throughout.
"I was hoping for a hot pace today and I was real happy with first eighth of a mile," Gryder said. "By the time we had gone three-sixteenths I could tell we had established a fast pace and I just wanted my horse to settle.
"When we got to the five-eighths pole I knew he was running his race, he was traveling so well. I was just hoping they (the leaders) would come back to us a little bit, but he went after them."
"I'll tell you, this horse made an incredible effort," Desormeaux said of the runner-up Imperative. "I made the lead, the winner passed me, I passed him again but I just couldn't hold him off. The winner was too good today."
Game On Dude, seeking his 14th career graded stakes win for trainer Bob Baffert and an unprecedented third triumph in the San Antonio, was fifth of seven in this traditional Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) prep. The lifetime earner of more than $5.7 million was making his first start since losing by a head to 3-year-old champion Will Take Charge in the Clark Handicap (gr. I) Nov. 29 at Churchill Downs.
Mike Smith, regular rider of Game On Dude, admitted he let the tempo get away from him when his mount challenged Blueskiesnrainbows.
"The pace was fast," said Mike Smith, regular rider of Game On Dude. "It was (too fast) based on where we finished. When you go that fast, you pay for it, and we both paid for it."
Blingo is trained by John Shirreffs for owners Jerry and Ann Moss. He rebounded from a sixth-place finish in the San Pasqual Stakes (gr. II) Jan. 11, a race won handily by Blueskiesnrainbows. That was the bay gelding's first start in three months after spending the summer and fall in New York where he won the I'm A Banker Stakes at Belmont Park Oct. 14.
The winner, a 5-year-old by Artie Schiller --Wassifa, by Sure Blade, was bred in Kentucky by B.P. Walden Jr. and B. Ray. With his fourth win from 11 lifetime starts, the $85,000 Keeneland September yearling graduate has now earned $364,408.
"It seems like this horse is still growing, but we're real happy with the way he's developed," said Jerry Moss. "John Shirreffs has just done an amazing job with this horse. The time he's put into him is really amazing. He got the horse right, dealing with all his idiosyncrasies."
As for Gryder's ride, Moss added, "It was his first time on, but it's his horse from now on. He rode him great; it was a perfectly-timed ride. He left a little something at the end and we managed to get through."
Moss said he hoped to see Blingo run in the March 8 Big 'Cap next.
Majestic Harbor, finished fourth, followed by Game On Dude, 7-2 second choice Blueskiesnrainbows, and Willyconker.