Left alone on the lead, heavy choice Game On Dude won the $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) July 6 for the second year in a row under a measured ride from jockey Mike Smith at Betfair Hollywood Park (VIDEO).
The Gold Cup, Hollywood Park's signature race, was contested for the final time at the Inglewood track, which is closing at the end of the year. On track attendance totaled 6,493 while on track handle was $1,510,974.
Carrying a career-high 127 pounds, Game On Dude never appeared seriously threatened as he completed the 1 1/4-mile distance in 2:01.89 over Hollywood's Cushion Track. Kettle Corn , rallying from last in the five-horse field with a game try, drew to within a length of Game On Dude at the wire. Sky Kingdom finished third.
Hall of Famer Smith, who never went to the whip, won for the fifth time in a row aboard Game On Dude since last December.
Trainer Bob Baffert won his third straight Gold Cup, and it was the Hall of Fame conditioner's fifth overall. Game On Dude, a 6-year-old Awesome Again gelding, races for Joe Torre's Diamond Pride, Lanni Family Trust, Mercedes Stable, and Bernie Schiappa.
"He had that look today," Baffert said of Game On Dude. "He had control of the pace and everything went like we drew it up in our mind. He just finds more gears as he goes along."
Game On Dude became the third multiple winner of the Gold Cup, joining Native Diver (1965-67) and Lava Man (2005-07), who each won the race three consecutive years. Game On Dude came within a nose of winning the 2011 Gold Cup, but lost to stablemate First Dude . Lava Man led the post parade for this year's Gold Cup.
"My trip was brilliant," said Smith. "It went really well. I'm very happy with the outcome. He did what he had to do and seemed to come back really well. I was really confident. I hand rode him. He is a fighter and if you're going to try to beat him, you've got to flat un by him."
Now a six-time grade I winner, Game On Dude pushed his career bankroll to $5,002,158 with his 14th victory from 26 races. Since finishing seventh in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) last November, the grand dark bay has reeled off victories in the Native Diver (gr. III), San Antonio (gr. II), Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) and Charles Town Classic (gr. II).
Adena Springs bred Game On Dude in Kentucky out of the Devil His Due mare Worldly Pleasure.
Leaving from post 2, Smith sent Game On Dude to the front but at a leisurely clip, getting the opening quarter mile in 25 seconds flat. Sky Kingdom, also trained by Baffert, settled about a length off the lead through the stretch the first time as Clubhouse Ride saved ground in third at the rail.
Game On Dude extended his lead to 1 1/2 lengths on the bakcstretch while picking the pace up a bit, negotiating a half mile in :49.31 and six furlongs in 1:12.60. Kettle Corn, progressing at the rail, appeared to be a threat from second coming into the stretch after they reached the quarter pole in 1:36.39. Kettle Corn battled willingly down the lane, but he could not reach even terms with Game On Dude, who held off his challenger while under a vigorous hand ride by Smith.
Kettle Corn, ridden by Rafael Bejarano, finished 6 3/4 lengths in front of Sky Kingdom, who was fanned wide into the stretch under Martin Garcia. Sky Kingdom edged Clubhouse Ride by half a length for third, with Oilisblackgold trailing.
"There was no way I could beat the winner with that type of slow pace, unless Clubhouse Ride pressured him, but at least I tried," Bejarano said.
Baffert said he was a little concerned as Kettle Corn zeroed in on Game On Dude, "but I was watching Smith and he never moved on him. He just sat on him. He knows this horse so well. He really had everything his own way today."
It's a good thing, too, Baffert said. "There's added pressure when you train a horse like him. He has a fan base now," he said. "You don't want to see him get beat because of the fans. I can hear them cheering him on. When they turned for home, it was like the whole place was on my side."
Game On Dude carried the most weight for a Gold Cup winner since Perrault shouldered the same 127 pounds to defeat Erins Isle and It's the One in 1982. The last Gold Cup winner to carry more was Affirmed under 132 while defeating Sirlad in 1979.
He paid $2.60, $2.20, $2.10. Kettle Corn, who donned blinkers for trainer John Sadler, returned $5.20 and $3.40, rounding out a $11.40 exacta. Sky Kingdom paid $3.80 to show.