Considered one of the top older horses in the world, two-time Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) winner Game On Dude heads a field of seven in the $300,000 San Antonio Stakes (gr. II) in his 2014 debut Feb. 8 at Santa Anita Park.
To be run at 1 1/8 miles, the San Antonio is race 5 at 2:30 p.m. PST on a Saturday program that also includes two other stakes: the 1 1/16-mile Robert B. Lewis (gr. II) for 3-year-olds, and the San Marco (gr. IIT) at 1 1/4 miles on turf for older horses.
Trained by Bob Baffert, 7-year-old Game On Dude’s primary rival will be Jerry Hollendorfer’s frontrunning Blueskiesnrainbows , who comes off a pair of impressive graded stakes scores. Both are assigned 123 pounds.
A well-beaten ninth as the 8-5 favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) at Santa Anita Nov. 2, Game On Dude got a measure of redemption in running a gut-wrenching second to eventual 3-year-old Eclipse Award champion Will Take Charge in the Clark Handicap (gr. I) at Churchill Downs Nov. 29.
A frontrunning sort himself, Game On Dude will have Blueskiesnrainbows to deal with if he is to win the San Antonio, a time-honored prep to the 1 1/4-mile Santa Anita Handicap to be run on March 8.
Owned by Joe Torre’s Diamond Pride Stable, the Lanni Family Trust, Mercedes Stable, and Bernard Schiappa, Game On Dude has seven wins and two seconds from 10 tries at 1 1/8 miles. He has amassed a remarkable overall record of 15-6-1 from 29 races, good for earnings of $5,707,893.
Including last year’s San Antonio, the Awesome Again gelding rattled off a total of five consecutive stakes wins in 2013: The Santa Anita Handicap, the Charles Town Classic (gr. II), the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I), and the TVG Pacific Classic (gr. I). His wins in the Big ‘Cap and the Pacific Classic were both by record margins. Regular rider Mike Smith has the assignment from post 5.
Hollendorfer, who has seemingly engaged Baffert in nearly all graded stakes competition this winter, trailed the white-haired wonder in the Santa Anita trainer standings 17-16 at the time of entry Feb. 5, and had three added-money wins to Baffert’s meet-leading five.
Twelfth and last to "Dude" in the Pacific Classic, Hollendorfer’s Blueskiesnrainbows got back on track with a big second in the Breeders’ Cup Marathon (gr. II) Nov. 1, followed by gate-to-wire victories in the Native Diver Stakes (gr. III) Dec. 14 and the San Pasqual Stakes (gr. II) Jan. 11.
A 5-year-old Virginia-bred horse by English Channel , Blueskiesnrainbows will likely try to dictate terms early from post 3 with regular pilot Martin Pedroza back in the saddle. Although he’s in peak form, Blueskiesnrainbows has yet to prove he can handle the likes of the favorite. Owned by Bad Boy Racing and Whizway Farms, he has three wins from seven tries at 1 1/8 miles and is 7-3-3 from 23 races overall, with earnings of $669,552.
Second at 17-1 in the San Pasqual, trainer Sean McCarthy’s Majestic Harbor will look to step forward in the San Antonio. A close-up fourth early with Tyler Baze, the 6-year-old Rockport Harbor horse can again be attentive to the pace if need be with Baze back aboard.
Well beaten in the San Pasqual at 7-2, Blingo looks to rebound for John Shirreffs and owners Jerry and Ann Moss. The 5-year-old gelding by turf star Artie Schiller will be ridden for the first time by Aaron Gryder and will be looking for a quick pace to rally into.
A sharp second condition allowance winner going 1 1/16 miles Jan. 1, American Blend will be ridden back by Joe Talamo and will try stakes company for the first time. Owned by Mr. and Mrs. Warren B. Williamson and bred in Kentucky by their Williamson Racing, the 6-year-old Quiet American gelding is trained by Carla Gaines and will be making his 11th career start.
Imperative is stepping up off a second in an allowance/optional claiming race on turf Jan. 26. Kent Desormeaux rides Imperative, who dons blinkers for trainer George Papaprodromou.
$300,000 San Antonio Stakes (gr. II, Race 5, 2:30 p.m.), 4 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse. Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Willyconker (IRE), F H Perez, 118, E J Guillot
2. American Blend (KY), J Talamo, 118, C Gaines
3. Blueskiesnrainbows (VA), M A Pedroza, 123, J Hollendorfer
4. Majestic Harbor (KY), T Baze, 118, S McCarthy
5. Game On Dude (KY), M E Smith, 123, B Baffert
6. Blingo (KY), A T Gryder, 118, J A Shirreffs
7. Imperative (KY), K J Desormeaux, 118, G Papaprodromou
Equipment Change: No. 7—Imperative—Blinkers On