Game on Dude did what was expected in his final tune-up for the Breeders' Cup Classic, posting an easy win in the Grade 1, $250,000 Awesome Again Stakes, and figures to be a definitive favorite over the same Santa Anita track on November 3. Favored at 1-5 over eight rivals on Saturday, the classy gelding provided Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Rafael Bejarano with their third Grade 1 victory on the afternoon when cruising to a 3 1/4-length decision.
Owned by the partnership Diamond Pride, Lanni Family Trust, Mercedes Stable and Bernie Schiappa, Game on Dude captured the same race 12 months ago when it was called the Goodwood Stakes. The 1 1/8-mile event was fittingly renamed for his sire, Awesome Again, and the five-year-old improved his overall record to a stellar 20-9-5-1, $2,994,658.
After breaking well from the rail post, Bejarano allowed the speedy Winning Machine to assume the early advantage heading into the first turn, taking a slight hold as the pacesetter crossed over in front of him, and stalked about a length back in second as Winning Machine established a comfortable opening quarter-mile in :23 1/5. Game on Dude continued to sit patiently through a half-mile in :48, and began to edge closer as they rounded the far turn, only a half-length back after six furlongs in 1:11 4/5.
He moved easily to the lead while entering the stretch and quickly opened by a clear margin, passing the eighth pole in 1:36 1/5 with a 2 1/2-length advantage. Bejarano gave his mount a tap of the whip to keep him focused in the final furlong as Game on Dude sailed to the wire, stopping the teletimer in 1:48 4/5 on the fast track.
"I knew the number two horse (Winning Machine) was going to send," Bejarano said. "My horse broke so fast from the gate that I let the other horse send a little bit to make sure I could hold my horse and put him in better position. After that the race was done because he was much the best horse in the race."
"I was hoping for this kind of outcome," Baffert said. "Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
"The break was really important for him," the Hall of Fame trainer added. "Sometimes he wants to get a little edgy in the gate, but he broke really well. It was the prep that you want for a horse like this."
Bejarano took over the reins from Chantal Sutherland, who had ridden Game on Dude in his last nine starts.
"(Bejarano) works really hard and knows these horses better than anyone," Baffert explained. "(Bejarano) rides a lot of favorites, and sometimes it's not going to work, but he handles the pressure really well. When you're 1 to 5, he knows just keep him out of trouble and let them run their race. If they win, they win. If they get beat, give them a chance."
Game on Dude recorded his first stakes win in the Grade 3 Lone Star Derby in 2010, but people began to take notice when he captured the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap in the spring of 2011. He went on to place in the Grade 3 Charles Town Classic and Grade 3 Lone Star Park Handicap before a nose second in the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup. Following his half-length score in the Goodwood, Game on Dude closed out last season with a runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs.
He opened 2012 with a convincing 5 1/2-length tally in the Grade 2 San Antonio in early February, but nothing went right for him when shipping overseas for the Group 1 Dubai World Cup in late March, as Game on Dude struggled over the synthetic Tapeta track and finished 12th. The dark bay rebounded when returning to action in early June, posting a 7 1/4-length tally in the Grade 2 Californian at Hollywood Park, and he rolled to another authoritative win in the Hollywood Gold Cup next out.
In his previous start, Game on Dude finished second in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic on a Del Mar Polytrack that isn't his best surface. He loves conventional dirt tracks like Santa Anita's, improving his mark to five for five in Arcadia, California.
"This horse is just getting better and better, and when he gets on dirt, he's a different horse," Baffert said.
Bred in Kentucky by Adena Springs, Game on Dude was produced by the stakes-winning Worldly Pleasure, a daughter of Devil His Due.