Frontrunning speedster Game On Dude, who will ship to Kentucky from Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert's Southern California base Nov. 27, is slated to depart from the rail with his usual partner, Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith.
Winner of five graded stakes this year alone, including three grade I victories, the 6-year-old Awesome Again gelding saw a six-race winning streak snapped when he finished ninth in the Nov. 2 Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) at Santa Anita Park. His Breeders' Cup prep, the Aug. 25 TVG Pacific Classic Stakes (gr. I), was won in sparkling wire-to-wire fashion by 8 1/2 lengths.
Game On Dude did some of his best running at the 2011 Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs, when he led the 1 1/4-mile Classic from the start but conceded to Drosselmeyer in the final furlong. In his only other Churchill run, he was fifth in the 2012 edition of The Cliff's Edge Derby Trial (gr. III), one start before notching his first graded win in the Lone Star Derby (gr. III). Game On Dude has earned $5,602,158 in 28 starts for a partnership that includes Bernie Schiappa and Joe Torre's Diamond Pride, with a 15-5-1 record from 28 starts with seven of those victories in grade I events.
Powerful closer Will Take Charge gets the seven hole in a field of nine, and will have regular rider Luis Saez aboard for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who bases his autumn string at the Louisville oval. Racing for Willis Horton, the sophomore son of Unbridled's Song comes off a runner-up finish to Mucho Macho Man by the narrowest of margins in the Breeders' Cup Classic, an effort he produced after back-to-back wins in the Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II) at Parx Racing and in the Travers at Saratoga Race Course.
Complete with his early season victory in the Rebel Stakes (gr. III) over eventual Preakness (gr. I) winner Oxbow and an even earlier victory in the Smarty Jones Stakes, and having heartily emerged from all three Triple Crown races unscathed if not victorious, the chestnut colt out of multple grade I winner Take Charge Lady is a leading candidate for year-end honors as the outstanding 3-year-old male of 2013.
"I think he's already sealed (the champion 3-year-old male award)," Lukas said. "I would rather take the position that the Clark is a significant race with grade I status and a nice purse, and an opportunity to showcase our horse again. I almost wish there was more to the season, because he is good right now. It's a prestigious race in many ways. It's a grade I and if we could get another grade I against older competition around two turns, I think it would be significant."
Will Take Charge was fanned six wide on the far turn of the Classic when Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Palace Malice came out.
"To run down those horses—Game On Dude and Mucho Macho Man and those type horses—in the stretch like he did after getting bumped and pushed out was significant," Lukas said. "I mean, he was running."
Meanwhile, Game On Dude could use a victory in the Clark to strengthen his argument for the top older male Eclipse Award, along with his undefeated record this year before the Classic.
"They've weighted him like he's Horse of the Year, so I guess that's a compliment," Baffert said. "I'm glad (Churchill Downs racing secretary Ben) Huffman (who assigned the weights) isn't down on the horse like everyone else is."
Game On Dude, the morning-line favorite at 8-5, carries high weight of 126 pounds, while 9-5 second choice Will Take Charge gets 123 as one of two 3-year-olds in the field (the other, J C M Racing's Prairie Mile Stakes winner Our Double Play, carries 113 for trainer Phil Bauer).
Also of interest are Bourbon Lane Stable's 2012 Super Derby (gr. II) winner Bourbon Courage, a 4-year-old Lion Heart runner who has been well-placed in other graded stakes but still seeks a grade I win for trainer Kellyn Gorder; 2012 Travers winner Golden Ticket, a Speightstown 4-year-old coming off a solid runner-up finish in the Nov. 2 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) for Magic City Thoroughbreds and trainer Ken McPeek, and Robert LaPenta's grade III winner Easter Gift, a 4-year-old by Hard Spun who ships in from New York for trainer Chad Brown.
A former Brown trainee, John Gunther and Eurowest Bloodstock Services' Jaguar Paw, starts for trainer Steven Lyster. The 6-year-old son of Giant's Causeway who won the Three Coins Up Stakes at Belmont Park in June and finished third in the Aug. 18 Philip H. Iselin Stakes (gr. III) at Monmouth Park last time out.
Completing the field are Donegal Racing's Dale Romans trainee Finnegans Wake, a turf allowance winner who comes off a fourth in the Oct. 26 Fayette Stakes (gr. II) on Polytrack at Keeneland, and Zayat Stables' grade II winner Prayer for Relief, cross-entered in the Nov. 30 Hawthorne Gold Cup Handicap (gr. II) by trainer Steve Asmussen. Finnegans Wake is a 4-year-old by Powerscourt, while Prayer for Relief, fifth in the Sept. 28 Homecoming Classic Stakes at Churchill last time out, is a 5-year-old son of Jump Start.