Soaking in the atmosphere at Belmont Park before the Belmont Stakes (gr. I), Ernie Moody and Bernie Schiappia were on the apron the morning of June 4, hanging out with trainer Bob Baffert. Moody and Schiappia, along with the Lanni Family Trust, are the owners of Game On Dude, a 10-1 shot on the morning line for the June 5 classic in New York.
Both natives of New Jersey who now live in Las Vegas, Moody and Schiappia have a few Triple Crown experiences under their belts. Moody’s Mercedes Stable was a co-owner of Rock Hard Ten, the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) runner-up and fifth-place finisher behind Birdstone and Smarty Jones in the 2004 Belmont. Schiappia and Moody were co-owners of Sinister Minister, the runaway 12 3/4-length winner of the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) in 2006, who faded late in that year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) behind Barbaro.
While both Moody and Schiappia are riding high this week with a Belmont contender, they are both aware of the valleys in the business.
Both were co-owners of Tiz Chrome, a promising 3-year-old son of Tiznow who was euthanized after breaking down during training April 18 at Churchill Downs. He was being pointed toward The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial (gr. III).
“That was a real, real good horse,” Schiappia said. “You would have heard his name a lot. Unfortunately, that’s the way things happen in this business, but he was a really nice horse.”
Game On Dude would start in the Derby Trial and finish fifth, beaten 19 1/2 lengths. He would rebound following a 16-hour van ride to Texas for the May 8 Lone Star Derby (gr. III). Game On Dude had little trouble dispatching his five rivals to win the 1 1/16-mile race by 4 1/2 lengths as the 6-5 favorite.
He’s the first Belmont starter for Moody since Rock Hard Ten.
“That was a pretty amazing time…the whole atmosphere at the Belmont that day,” Moody said of the race in which Smarty Jones was going for the Triple Crown. “You walked into the paddock and you could just feel the electricity. It was a little bit disconcerting because we actually got booed in the paddock. It’s not like he was a quarterback at a football game…he was a horse for crying out loud.”
In the 2004 Belmont, Rock Hard Ten and Purge pressed the early pace with Smarty Jones as they sped through a :48.65 half, six furlongs in 1:11.76, and a brisk 1:35.44 mile. While Smarty Jones tired in the stretch to lose by a length to Birdstone, Rock Hard Ten faded to fifth and Purge finished last of nine.
“I think we might have cost him the race because we went out with him and another horse early and got kind of carried away in the beginning,” Moody remembered. “I thought we ran a little too fast.”
Growing up fast in Plainfield, N.J., the 65-year-old Schiappia got into racing by going to Monmouth Park and Freehold Raceway with his father.
“Back years ago they used to call horses ‘GGs’ in London,” Schiappia said. “My father gave the nickname ‘GG’ because I used to love to watch the horses. I’ve been gambling on horses for a long time.”
While this is his first Belmont starter, he has had runners on the Belmont undercard race with his blue silks with an orange basketball and orange sleeves. That’s his tip of the cap to the NBA’s New York Knicks.
With Game On Dude, they’re hoping for a fast break to the winner’s circle.
“I hope he runs well and puts in a good race,” Moody said. “We’ll see what happens. I never try to speculate. I guess that’s what the press does.”
Schiappia, ever the horseplayer, is a bit optimistic regarding Game On Dude’s chances.
“He’s going to be a little bit more than the morning line,” he said of the odds. “I bet on value and for me, he’s a value play.”