Game On Dude put his disappointing Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) behind him with a gritty front-running win in the $250,000 Native Diver Stakes Presented by the Oak Tree Racing Association (gr. III) Dec. 1 at Betfair Hollywood Park (VIDEO).
Confronted with a strong challenge from Nonios at the furlong pole, Game On Dude responded to left-handed urging from jockey Mike Smith to pull away in deep stretch to win by 1 1/4 lengths.
It was the first start for Game On Dude since he failed to factor while a distant seventh as the 13-10 favorite in the $5 Million Breeders' Cup Classic Nov. 3 at Santa Anita Park.
This year's Native Diver received a boost in purse from $100,000 last year.
Owned by Joe Torre’s Diamond Pride, Lanni Family Trust, Ernie Moody’s Mercedes Stable, and Bernie Schiappa, Game On Dude surpassed the $3 million mark with his 10th lifetime win in 22 starts.
Bob Baffert trains the 5-year-old son of Awesome Again --Worldly Pleasure, by Devil His Due. Bred in Kentucky by Adena Springs, Game On Dude becomes sire Awesome Again's third $3-million earner, following Ghostzapper and Ginger Punch.
Racing on a heavy Cushion Track after quite a bit of rain fell in the preceding days in Southern California, Game On Dude was timed in a slow 1:52.27 in the Native Diver. The imposing dark bay posted his fifth win in seven tries at the 1 1/8-mile distance.
Leaving from the rail as the 3-10 choice in the field of five, the 124-pound highweight Game On Dude was typically slow into stride as Nonios zipped to the front. Heading into the clubhouse turn, Smith pushed Game On Dude through at the rail, brushing Nonios to take the advantage. Game On Dude then dictated the pace from the inside, leading by about a length over Nonios while posting quarter-mile fractions of :24.52, :49.81, and 1:14.97.
"He had a little hiccup coming out of the gate," said Smith, who rode Game On Dude for the first time after replacing Rafael Bejarano. "He was squatting a little. I have a couple of ideas maybe we'll try (next time). "
Smith said he was willing to sit in behind Nonios. But when Nonios slowed the tempo heading into the first turn, "I was determined to stick him in there," he remarked.
"I know this horse is brave, so I just put him where I thought I had to. He handled the track well."
Nonios and defending Native Diver champion Kettle Corn came under encouragement on the far turn to draw closer to the leader. Nonios went on with it through the homestretch to reach even terms with Game On Dude approaching the eighth pole. But Game On Dude responded as he usually does when challenged and prevailed over the game challenger.
"I wanted to see if he'd fight," Smith said. "He acted like he would in the mornings, and he certainly did in the afternoon. He won pretty much within himself."
The 3-year-old Nonios, ridden by Martin Pedroza, was a clear second by 4 1/4 lengths over Kettle Corn. It was 10 lengths back to multiple grade I winner Richard's Kid, who failed to menace after trailing the field into the stretch. Make Music for Me was last.
"I thought Nonios would be the horse to beat in here," Baffert said. "I figured Pedroza would try to get aggressive with him. I saw Pedroza go over there and I thought he was going to get in `Dude's psyche a little bit, maybe try to cut him off or get him off his heels.
"I saw Nonios making that move on the (final) turn and was coming back on, I said 'Whoa,' because this track is pretty demanding. But then he cut back in and (Game On Dude) wasn't really tired when he got back. It's just a shame that he ran great races all year long and had a bad trip in the Breeders' Cup. But it's a new day today."
After capturing the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) and Californian Stakes (gr. II) earlier this year, Game On Dude is now 3-for-4 over the Hollywood Park main track. His only defeat over the track came in a nose loss to Baffert stablemate First Dude in a memorable 2011 Gold Cup.
Game On Dude also won the Awesome Again Stakes (gr. I), formerly the Goodwood, and the San Antonio Stakes (gr. II) this year at Santa Anita. The gelding has eight graded stakes victories to his credit, four coming in grade I races.
Boosting his career earnings to $3,132,158, Game On Dude paid $2.60, $2.20, $2.10. Nonios, who was coming off a sixth-place finish in the BC Classic, returned $3.20 and $2.40 in his 10th start of the year for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. Nonios received five pounds from the winner. Kettle Corn, who also toted 119, paid $3 to show.
Baffert previously won the Native Diver with General Challenge in 1999.
One race before the Native Diver, heavily favored Reneesgotzip returned a winner in her first race since finishing third in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (gr. IT), narrowly capturing the $70,440 Skillful Joy Stakes.
The 3-10 choice in a race moved from turf to Cushion Track due to weather concerns, Reneesgotzip was outrun early by Nechez Dawn, who popped the gate from her outside post. Reneesgotzip was able to wear the daughter of Indian Charlie down, ultimately winning by a neck.
The victory was the fifth in nine starts for Reneesgotzip, who is owned by Lanni Family Trust and trained by Peter Miller. The 3-year-old daughter of City Zip out of the Distorted Humor mare No Dress Code pushed her earnings to $454,460. The Kentucky bred is undefeated in four races over synthetic surfaces, including three wins over the Hollywood Park main track.
Reneesgotzip, who completed the six furlongs under Gomez in 1:13.05, paid $2.60, $2.20 and $2.10. Nechez Dawn, the 7-2 second choice, returned $3 and $2.20. Curvy Cat, who was 2 1/2 lengths back in third, paid $2.80 to show.