Game On Dude maintained his unbeaten record at Santa Anita Park with a smooth victory in the $250,000 Awesome Again Stakes (gr. I) Sept, 29, a perfect tuneup for his return to the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) over his favorite track (VIDEO).
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Rafael Bejarano teamed to win their third grade I race of the day with 3-10 favorite Game On Dude. It followed grade I tallies by Executiveprivilege in the Chandelier Stakes and Power Broker in the FrontRunner Stakes.
"I was hoping for this kind of outcome. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't," Baffert said. "They were all coming into their races really well. I'm glad that Power Broker really showed his stuff today. We still have a ways to go, and as long as they all stay healthy and keep moving forward, that's the main goal."
Bejarano replaced Chantal Sutherland, who had ridden Game On Dude in his past 10 races.
"This horse is just getting better and better, and when he gets on dirt, he's a different horse," Baffert said. "(Rafael) 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 atoned for a half-length defeat in the Pacific Classic (gr. I) last month with his 3 1/4-length decision in a race renamed this year for his sire, Awesome Again . Previously known as the Goodwood, it was a "Win & You're In" event for the Breeders' Cup Classic, a berth Game On Dude had already secured by winning the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) July 7.
Owned by Bernie Schiappa, Joe Torre’s Diamond Pride, and the Lanni Family Trust, 5-year-old Game On Dude is now 5-for-5 on the Santa Anita main track. The final time for the 1 1/18-mile event was 1:48.98.
While never seriously challenging the winner in the stretch, 3-year-old Nonios finished up encouragingly to be second, with Richard's Kid rallying belatedly to nip Rail Trip for third.
Bred in Kentucky by Adena Springs, Game On Dude is out of the stakes winning Devil His Due mare Worldly Pleasure. Runner-up in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs, Game On Dude figures to be doubly tough over his home track in the Nov. 3 race. He picked up his fourth win in six starts this year, all in grade I or grade II events.
In the Awesome Again, the dark bay/brown gelding always looked like a winner, breaking from his rail post with the early leader Winning Machine alongside and sitting second. Bejarano angled Game On Dude to the outside of Winning Machine coming through the stretch the first time and those two showed the way with Rail Trip and Nonios stalking in third and fourth. The fractions, :23.23, :48.02, and 1:11.94, were not taxing.
"I knew (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."
Rounding the far turn, Game On Dude was prepared to pounce on the leader and he came away with a half-length advantage in upper stretch after a brief tussle. Nonios, racing toward the inside after benefiting from a ground-saving trip for Martin Pedroza, gave chase through the lane. But by the time they reached mid-stretch with Game On Dude leading by 2 1/2 lengths, there was little doubt of the winner.
"The break was really important for him," Baffert said of Game On Dude. "Sometimes he wants to get a little edgy in the gate, but he broke really well. Plan A was if he breaks well, don't move on him. (Bejarano) found a seam right away and got him to the outside. They slowed it down, so he just sat there and waited, then asked him to run in the stretch. It was the prep that you want for a horse like this."
Nonios was the clear runner-up by 4 1/2 lengths over the Garrett Gomez-ridden Richard's Kid, who should appreciate the extra furlong in the Classic should he advance. Rail Trip, in contention most of the way, weakened in deep stretch to finish a neck farther back in fourth.
Completing the order in the nine-horse field: Suggestive Boy, Winning Machine, Empire Way, Groovin' Solo, and Balladry.
Game On Dude, who also won the San Antonio (gr. II) and Californian (gr. II) stakes this year, improved his career record to 9-5-1 in 20 races with earnings of $2,994,658.
Carrying top weight of 124 pounds, Game On Dude paid $2.60, $2.20, and $2.10, keying a $11.40 exacta with 10-1 shot Nonios. The recent fifth-place finisher in the Travers Stakes (gr. I) for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer returned $4.80 and $3. Richard's Kid was $2.80 to show.
On-track attendance of 17,565 is the highest total of a Santa Anita Autumn meet, which is in its second season.