Two dudes from trainer Bob Baffert's barn proved better than heavy favorite Twirling Candy in the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) (VIDEO). First Dude came from off the pace to capture the $500,000 event July 9 under frantic urging from Martin Garcia to snatch victory by a nose at the wire over Game On Dude.
Twirling Candy did everything right in an exhilarating three-horse finish to Hollywood Park's 1 1/4-mile Gold Cup but came up a neck short while finishing between the Baffert stablemates in third.
Baffert said he did not know which of his horses won until the photo sign came down.
"It's like that line, 'I don't know who won, but I know I did,'" he said, paraphrasing Charlie Whittingam.
"I was having a bad day. I wanted to run 1-2. I was hoping for a dead heat,'' he added. The last time a trainer had the first two finishers in the Gold Cup was in 2001 when the late Bobby Frankel had Aptitude and Skimming at 1-2. That result was made possible when Futural was disqualified from first and placed third.
First Dude, with the biggest victory of his career, gains an automatic berth to the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs. Donald Dizney's Florida homebred son of Stephen Got Even out of the Smart Strike mare Run Sarah Run has already shown a fondness for Churchill. He captured the Alysheba Stakes (gr. I) by a nose over that track in his most recent race May 6.
The final time for the Hollywood Gold Cup was a strong 2:01.57 on Cushion Track.
Chantal Sutherland was the first female jockey to have a mount in the Hollywood Gold Cup and she nearly won it—just a few months after taking the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) with Game on Dude. This time Game On Dude set the pace over Twirling Candy and battled that one all the way down the lane before losing out in the final jump.
"I just played cat and mouse with Twirling Candy as much as I could," Sutherland told TVG. "I thought I finally put him away. Then flying late I saw this flash of red. I said, 'Martin! You've got to be kidding me!' "
Sutherland said she wasn't completely surprised, however.
"That's the way they've been working in the mornings," she said. "First Dude always catching him at the wire."
Setsuko finished fourth, 2 1/4 lengths behind Twirling Candy, with defending Gold Cup winner Awesome Gem fifth.
The learning curve has been a long one, but First Dude has now won three straight since finishing sixth in the Santa Anita Handicap March 5. While facing the best competition in the nation as a 3-year-old last year, he had won just once in his first 14 races for trainer Dale Romans before Dizney sent him to Baffert in Southern California this winter.
First Dude relaxed toward the rear of the eight-horse field as Game On Dude went to the front with 11-10 choice Twirling Candy, leaving from the rail post for Joel Rosario, settling nicely in second. Twirling Candy has had a tendency to pull in most of his races but angled off the rail for Rosario a bit and stalked Game On Dude through sensible fractions of :23.42, :47.75, and 1:12.03.
Twirling Candy, the 122-pound high weight, appeared poised to wrestle the lead away in upper stretch but Game On Dude held on tenaciously and those two battled down the lane. Garcia went to work on First Dude rounding the final turn and had his charge moving on the outside near the quarter pole.
First Dude flew down the lane while three paths wide as Garcia urged him on with a right-handed stick at mid-stretch. He was fifth at the eighth pole with still nearly three lengths to make up, getting up just in time in an extremely tight finish.
Twirling Candy had his head in front at the furlong marker but could not hold off the other two in the final sixteenth while finishing willingly. He gave six pounds to the winner and four to the runner-up.
This was Baffert's third Gold Cup win following Real Quiet in 1999 and Congaree in 2003. It came a day after a funeral mass for his mother in his hometown of Nogales, Ariz. Ellie Baffert died June 23 after a long fight against cancer. She was 88.
Second last year in the Preakness (gr. I) and Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II) and third in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I), Haskell Invitational (gr. I), and Travers Stakes (gr. I), First Dude has put it all together with his third win in four starts for Baffert. His career mark stands at 4-5-4 in 17 races with earnings of $1,442,140.
For winning the Gold Cup, First Dude's $150,000 Breeders' Cup Classic entry fee will be paid and $10,000 in shipping fees will be taken care of as part of the Breeders' Cup Challenge program.
First Dude was sent off as the second choice and paid $10.20, $4.80, and $3.20, and topped a $39.60 exacta. Game On Dude, winless in three starts since his nose victory over Setsuko in the roughly-run Big 'Cap, returned $5.60 and $3.60. Twirling Candy, who lost for the second time at 10 furlongs, was $2.40 to show.
Setsuko and Awesome Gem were followed home by Dark Cove, Miss Match, and Soul Candy.