Game On Dude will not defend his title in the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) March 3 and will instead be prepared for the $10 million Dubai World Cup (UAE-I), trainer Bob Baffert said Feb. 29.
Baffert made his decision a short time before the post position draw for the 75th running of the Big 'Cap. He said he didn't think Game On Dude would be able to run in the 1 1/4-mile Santa Anita Handicap and come back strongly for the March 31 World Cup, also at 1 1/4 miles. The World Cup will be contested on the Tapeta racing surface at Meydan Racecourse.
"It was a pretty tough decision since we always look forward to running in the Big 'Cap," Baffert told HRTV. "For $10 million, I felt we had to pass this race. He puts so much into his races that (running) would have knocked him out for the World Cup. It wouldn't have given him enough time.
He added, "If we're going to Dubai we have to give him his best chance, so that's what we're doing."
Baffert, who has won the past two editions of the Santa Anita Handicap, will be represented this year by Prayer for Relief, who drew post 11 in a 13-horse field.
Game On Dude has run once so far this year, romping to a 5 1/2-length victory in the San Antonio Stakes (gr. II) over Santa Anita's main track Feb. 5. Owned by Diamond Pride, Lanni Family Trust, Mercedes Stable, and others, the 5-year-old Awesome Again gelding has won six of 15 lifetime races with earnings of $2,254,658.
In his recent form over synthetics, Game On Dude nearly won last year's Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) on Cushion Track, losing by a nose to stablemate First Dude. In his next start, the Pacific Classic (gr. I) on Del Mar's Polytrack, he ran fourth, 4 1/4 lengths behind Acclamation.
Baffert said Chantal Sutherland, Game On Dude's regular jockey, would make the trip to Dubai as well.
"She told me she'd go to Thailand to ride this horse," the trainer said. "It'll be a big night."
Baffert said he also plans to take The Factor to the World Cup Carnival, where he will run in the Golden Shaheen (UAE-I).