Showing he's happy to be back in the Golden State, Game On Dude romped to victory in the aptly named Californian Stakes (gr. II) June 2 in his first start since a nearly tragic trip to the Dubai two months ago (VIDEO).
Making his second lifetime start at Betfair Hollywood Park, Game On Dude, won the $147,000 event by 7 1/4 lengths officially while completing the 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:48.01 over the Cushion Tack. The Californian is the main local stakes prep for the $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) at 1 1/4 miles July 7.
Chantal Sutherland was aboard the even-money pick for trainer Bob Baffert and owners Diamond Pride, Lanni Family Trust, Bernie Schiappa, and Mercedes Stable. Baseball luminary Joe Torre, part of the Diamond Pride ownership group, was at Hollywood Pak for the race.
Game On Dude was coming off a 12th-place finish in the March 31 Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline (UAE-I) at Meydan Racecourse. As if that performance wasn't disappointing enough, during the trip the 59-year-old Baffert, a Hall of Fame member, suffered a heart attack from which he quickly recovered.
“I almost went to Dubai with this horse last time, but something came up in baseball and I couldn’t do it," Torre said. "I wanted to go. Dubai is interesting. In a way it was disappointing, but in another way it was great that (Baffert) came home and recovered the way he did. That’s the most important thing. There’s always another race.”
The Californian victory moves Game On Dude, second in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I), back into the mix among the nation's leading handicap horses as the summer campaign approaches.
“I knew he’d be fresh, but I thought he’d be a little short," Baffert said. "I told (Chantal) to go away from there and let him get into a groove and don’t worry about anything. He’ll just drag you around there."
Baffert said he took his time bringing his star back to race readiness.
"For two weeks, I didn’t really do anything with him," he said. "Lately, he’s been really doing great. Instead of working him again, I let him run for $150,000. Chantal gets along with him really well. He really likes her. That’s why she’s riding him. The Hollywood Gold Cup is the next step.”
In his only previous race on Hollywood's Cushion track in last year's Gold Cup, Game On Dude finished second, a nose behind stablemate First Dude .
The 5-year-old gelding by Awesome Again --Worldly Pleasure, by Devil His Due, was bred in Kentucky by Adena Springs.
With the scratch of Uh Oh Bango, just four contested the Californian. Game On Dude broke alertly from the rail and led narrowly over second choice Morning Line while clipping off quarter-mile fractions of :24.01 and :48.23. Game On Dude spurted away from Morning Line as they headed into the far turn and Morning Line quickly came under pressure from jockey Joe Talamo to keep up.
But there was no catching Game On Dude. He hit the homestretch about five lengths in front and continued to draw away through the lane under steady handling by Sutherland.
“He was quick out of there," Sutherland said. "Bob said to get him in the race. Joe (Talamo on Morning Line) got a little close to him early and he got aggressive. On the backside, I didn’t move a muscle. I don’t even know if I breathed. He was just like on go. He relaxed sweet and then he just took off. It was like he was on autopilot, really.
"It’s so much fun to ride a horse like that, I can’t tell you. It’s just like unbelievable, the power and so much endurance. Bob said in the paddock he might be a little short. If that’s Bob’s short, what the heck.”
Kettle Corn, ridden by Joel Rosario, rallied into second along the inside and held Prayer for Relief and Rafael Bejarano safe through the stretch to get the runner-up spot by a half-length. Morning Line, impressive winner of the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap (gr. II) May 5 after a nine-month absence, faded to last.
Game On Dude had been working at Santa Anita Park for his return to action and was coming off a seven-furlong drill in 1:24 May 27.Winner of last year's Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I), Game On Dude began the 2012 campaign in February with a 5 1/4-length romp in the San Antonio Stakes (gr. II). He now has won seven of 17 starts with five placings and earnings of $2,344,658.
Game On Dude carried 120 pounds in the Californian and paid $4 and $2.40. Kettle Corn, third in the Mervyn LeRoy for trainer John Sadler, returned $3.20 and completed a $14.20 exacta.