Game On Dude must be cloistered away in solitude from the rest of the country, considering he is undefeated this year, winning the grade I Santa Anita Handicap and Hollywood Gold Cup and grade II San Antonio Stakes and Charles Town Classic, yet is not even in the mention as best horse in the country in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's weekly poll.
Each week, Wise Dan consistently receives more than three times the first-place votes (35-10 this week). Wise Dan is having another terrific year and also is undefeated, but it seems few people ever mention Game On Dude.
The 6-year-old son of Awesome Again will attempt to emulate Lava Man's feat of winning the Big Cap, Hollywood Gold Cup, and Pacific Classic (gr. I) in the same year when he takes on a large field in Del Mar's premier event Aug. 25.
Although Game On Dude has managed to win the Big 'Cap and Hollywood Gold Cup twice, the 1 1/4-mile Pacific Classic has eluded him. He was a well-beaten fourth in 2011 and was nailed in the final yards last year by the 3-year-old Dullahan, a synthetic track terror in the United States.
It has been well established by now that Del Mar's Polytrack surface is far from his favorite, but according to Baffert, that may not be the case this year, judging by the way he's been working over it.
"Actually, he's been handling the synthetic surface much better than he has in the past," Baffert said Aug. 20 on a NTRA teleconference. "He's been moving really well over it. Maybe he's getting used to it. In his last work he galloped out real strong and didn't take a deep breath afterward. He's happy and healthy, and I'm confident he's sitting on a big race; we're looking forward to it."
Baffert is not happy losing regular rider Mike smith, who opted to ride Royal Delta in the Personal Ensign Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga Race Course the same day, but understands Smith's decision and was glad to get Joel Rosario to replace him.
"I knew this day might come," Baffert said. "They always got to go with the woman, so I can't blame him. He has more history with the filly. One thing about Rosario, he's good on the lead and that's the only way to go with him. There's not a lot of thinking involved. You just have to put him on the lead and you can't worry about anything else. He likes a faster pace, and you have to let him get it on."
Baffert realizes that Game On Dude's worst race of his career was in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I), but he feels he is a different horse this year
"When he got behind after breaking flat-footed and began fighting (Rafael Bejarano) it was painful to watch," Baffert said. "This year, he's been relaxing a lot more; that's why I think he's going to be more effective. I think Mike Smith has taught him a lot, which is why I hated losing him. He really has his number and knows when to give him a breather."
Baffert said he doesn't concern himself with looking for redemption or Game On Dude having to prove himself.
"He's a gelding and when you have an older gelding you just enjoy your horse and be thankful he's in your barn,' Baffert said. "I don't get caught up in respect and validation; I just enjoy the moment. People get too caught up in that; I don't worry about it. It's a pleasure to train him. He's the nicest, sweetest horse to be around, but when he gets in the gate he turns into a different horse and becomes very competitive."
After last year's Pacific Classic, Baffert says Dullahan again will be the horse to beat.
"I saw Dullahan on the track for first time since last year and he looked really good," Baffert said. "He really moves up on synthetic, and I think it's between these two. He's the horse who worries me most. He's beaten us before and likes the track."
Baffert is remaining noncommittal regarding Game On Dude's jockey in future races and said he hasn't mapped out a plan yet to get to the Breeders' Cup.
"Hopefully, we'll win this one and then take it one race at a time," he said. "I never get ahead of myself. I don't even know if I'll run Dude before the Breeders' Cup."
Game On Dude, who has earned $5,002,158 in his career, is owned by Joe Torre's Diamond Pride, Bernie Schiappa, Lanni Family Trust, and Mercedes Stable.