Game On Dude has been dominating the ranks of older horses in Southern California for so long it's tempting to believe he's lost a step every time he throws in a bad one.
Even trainer Bob Baffert has, at times, had his doubts about the 7-year-old gelding who finished a distant fourth last time out in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita (gr. I) June 28 as the 4-5 favorite. But Game On Dude keeps fooling him as he prepares to defend his title in the $1 million TVG Pacific Classic (gr. I) Aug. 24 at Del Mar.
"I really think he's training like he was prepping for it last year," the Hall of Fame trainer said. "He likes the surface here. He gets over it really well. He had a great work. His last two works were really great. He's really getting over the track well, and so it's exciting.
"You know, last year I didn't think I could have him back here at at this level again. When he brings his 'A' game, it's just there's nobody can beat him, and I really think he's doing well. So if he throws that 'A' race, he's just tough to beat."
Game On Dude, who has lost five his past six races, worked five furlongs over the Polytrack in :59 3/5 Aug. 18. Six days before that, he clocked seven furlongs in 1:24 3/5. He will be making his fourth start in the Pacific Classic after finishing fourth in 2011 and second the following year.
Able to dictate the tempo in last year's Pacific Classic, Game on Dude left his 11 rivals behind with a 24-second final quarter mile en route to an 8 1/2-length trouncing in a time of 2:00.69 for the 1 1/4-mile distance.
The Pacific Classic will be the 10th of 11 races on the Sunday Del Mar card and is a Breeders' Cup Challenge Series "Win and You're In" race that earns the winner an automatic spot in this year's Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I). The NBC Sports Network will broadcast the Pacific Classic live from 5-6 p.m. (PDT) with post time scheduled for 5:46 p.m.
Pace will be key once again this year for the son of Awesome Again , who appears to have a substantial edge in that regard as the 3-1 second choice in an 11-horse field. Unbeaten Shared Belief, the 5-2 favorite on the morning line who breaks from the far outside, and synthetic specialist Frac Daddy , leaving from the rail, are the ones most likely to press Game On Dude, who has post 5.
Owned by Joe Torres's Diamond Pride, Lanni Family Trust, Mercedes Stable, and Bernie Schiappa, Game On Dude's season to date has been highlighted by his record third win in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) March 8, a race that followed a fifth-place clunker in the San Antonio Stakes (gr. II).
With 16 wins from 33 lifetime starts—including eight grade I triumphs—and earnings of $6,438,893, Game On Dude is one of the most accomplished Thoroughbreds in North America to never win an Eclipse Award. Game On Dude has won six of 13 career starts at 1 1/4 miles.
Most of the pre-race discussion of the Pacific Classic has surrounded jockey Mike Smith's decision to abandon Game On Dude for the 3-year-old Shared Belief. Martin Garcia has the call instead.
Five-for-five in his brief career with a combined winning margin of 29 lengths, Shared Belief comes off a 4 1/4-length win in the Los Alamitos Derby (gr. II) July 5 in his second start of the year for Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. Four of his prior wins have come on synthetic tracks, though he is yet to try Del Mar's Polytrack. The gelded son of Candy Ride has been training at Golden Gate Fields.
Smith rode him for the first time at Los Alamitos and came away impressed with Shared Belief's professionalism.
"I mean he's not that big of a horse, but when you're on him and he's running he makes you feel like you're on a giant," Smith said. "I mean he's just so well balanced and really agile."
Hollendorfer said he's not overly concerned with the outer draw.
"I think we'd rather have the outside than inside," Hollendorfer said. Mike is the one who has to do all the maneuvering and I don't think he minds being out there."
Owned by Jim Rome's Jungle Racing, KMN Racing, Hollendorfer, Jason Litt, George Todaro, and Alex Solis II, Shared Belief has banked $772,200
With a six-pound weight break over his elders (who all carry 124), the winner of last year's CashCall Futurity (gr. I) will be attempting 1 1/4 miles for the first time.
Shared Belief's sire set a record for Del Mar's dirt track in winning the Pacific Classic in 2003 (1:59.11). Three-year-olds have won the Pacific Classic four times from 13 starts over 23 renewals, the most recent being Dullahan in 2012.
The 2014 Pacific Classic is far from a two-horse race, however.
Next on the morning line at 9-2 is Gallant Stables' Majestic Harbor , who rolled past fading Game On Dude en route to a 6 1/4-length victory in the Gold Cup. The upset victory at odds of 14-1 marked the first grade I win for the son of Rockport Harbor and his Southern California-based trainer Sean McCarthy.
Tabbed at 8-1 are Clubhouse Ride and Irish Surf. A 6-year-old son of Candy Ride trained by Craig Lewis, Clubhouse Ride has won or placed in 24 of 38 starts and earned $1,320,132. Owned by Six-S Racing Stable and Nikolas Petralia, Clubhouse Ride won the Californian Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita Park two years in a row and most recently finished second in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita.
Trained by Dan Hendricks for breeder Gainesway Stable and Thor-Bred Bred Stable, Irish Surf, who is also entered in the Del Mar Handicap (gr. II) Aug. 23 on turf, is coming off his first stakes triumph in the 1 1/2-mile Cougar Handicap (gr. III) at Del Mar.
Three-year-old Toast of New York (10-1) ships in from England for trainer Michael Buckley off a sixth-place finish in the Belmont Derby (gr. IT) on turf July 5. All three of his wins came on synthetic tracks, including the Al Naboodah Group U.A.E. Derby (UAE-II) by 2 1/2 lengths on the Dubai World Cup undercard March 29 at Meydan.
Grade II Canadian winner Frac Daddy, a disappointing fourth as the favorite in the San Diego Handicap (gr. II), is pegged at 15-1, as is You Know I Know, who edged Frac Daddy for the show spot in the San Diego.
Imperative, who defeated Game On Dude in a 26-1 surprise in the Charles Town Classic (gr. II) April 19, and multiple Argentine grade I winner Mystery Train, making his United States debut, are both at 20-1. Ice Cream Truck (30-1), third in the Cougar II, completes the lineup.
Del Mar, Sunday, August 24, 2014, Race 10
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L 1 1Frac Daddy (KY) Alan Garcia 124 Kenneth G. McPeek - 2 2Irish Surf (KY) Elvis Trujillo 124 Dan L. Hendricks - 3 3Imperative (KY) Kent J. Desormeaux 124 George Papaprodromou - 4 4Ice Cream Truck (KY) Tiago Josue Pereira 124 A. C. Avila - 5 5Game On Dude (KY) Martin Garcia 124 Bob Baffert - 6 6You Know I Know (KY) Edwin A. Maldonado 124 John W. Sadler - 7 7Majestic Harbor (KY) Tyler Baze 124 Sean McCarthy - 8 8Toast of New York (KY) Victor Espinoza 118 Jamie Osborne - 9 9Clubhouse Ride (KY) Joseph Talamo 124 Craig Anthony Lewis - 10 10Mystery Train (ARG) Fernando Hernandez Perez 124 Darrell Vienna - 11 11Shared Belief (KY) Mike E. Smith 118 Jerry Hollendorfer -
Del Mar, Sunday, August 24, 2014, Race 10