Game On Dude took some heat for six furlongs, then sped away in the stretch to take the $196,000 San Antonio Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO) as expected Feb. 3 for his sixth win in seven tries at Santa Anita Park.
Just three overmatched opponents challenged the four-time grade I winner, who was sent off as the 1-20 favorite in his 6-year-old seasonal debut. Ridden by Mike Smith, the gelded son of Awesome Again completed the 1 1/8-mile test in a solid 1:47.53 over a fast track on Super Bowl Sunday, winning by 6 1/2 lengths.
Game On Dude won the San Antonio for the second straight year.
Next up for the Bob Baffert-trained Game On Dude is the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) at 1 1/4 miles, a race 'Dude won in 2011.
Owned by Joe Torre’s Diamond Pride, Lanni Family Trust, Ernie Moody’s Mercedes Stable, and Bernie Schiappa, Game On Dude ran his record to 11-5-1 in 23 lifetime starts with $3,252,158 in purse earnings. Game On Dude paid $2.10 to win and $2.10 to place. There was no show wagering.
Torre was part of the large contingent that made its way to the winner's circle after the race.
``He just seems to be such a great competitor,'' Torre said. ``I'm not an authority on horses. I sit next to Baffert whenever I can, and when he told me at the top of the stretch that he's got plenty left, I sort of relaxed a little bit.''
Game on Dude, who was bred in Kentucky by Adena Springs out of the Devil His Due mare Worldly Pleasure, was making his first start since winning the Native Diver Stakes (gr. III) Dec. 1 at Betfair Hollywood Park.
Baffert won his third grade II stakes of the weekend at Santa Anita, following victories in the Robert B. Lewis by Flashback and in the Strub with Guilt Trip Feb. 2. Guilt Trip, if he runs, looms as the top local challenger to Game On Dude in the Big 'Cap.
The Hall of Fame trainer wasn't entirely pleased with the San Antonio outcome.
"He grabbed himself a little bit on the ankle coming away from there, but it looked pretty superficial," Baffert said of Game On Dude. "The horse runs well fresh. I really didn't want to run that fast early. I wanted him to cruise around there. I wanted a Flashback kind of a win (referring to Flashback's easy win in Saturday's Robert B. Lewis Stakes). We'll see how it takes its toll on him, but he ran a good race."
Leaving from post 2, Game On Dude, carrying top weight of 123 pounds, went to the front and was quickly joined on his outside by Basmati, who stuck to the favorite through the clubhouse turn and down the backstretch. The other two horses in the field, Clubhouse Ride and Make Music for Me, dropped about five lengths behind the leaders, who clipped off quick fractions of :23.38, :46.78, and 1:10.53.
Game On Dude, without being asked, began to edge clear on the far turn after completing six furlongs in 1:10.53. Clubhouse Ride, advancing in third for Aaron Gryder rounding the bend, tried to muster a challenge when angled out at the top of the stretch. But he was no match for the favorite, who was asked a bit by Smith and smoothly lengthened his advantage through the lane while in hand.
"You know I got pressured, even more so than if it was a full field, believe it or not," Smith said. "In these short fields people make you do things because it's more of a match race. He has a high, high cruising speed and you just let him get into his rhythm whether that's up front or off the lead.
"I let him do his thing today and he ran brilliant to be honest. He stood up over on the turn, took one breath and turned around like it was nothing. They were running quick, but that's just him."
Smith said he thought the race sets Game On Dude up well for the Santa Anita.
"This is an extremely talented horse, he might even be better this year," Smith said. "The feeling he gave me today was even more so than when I first rode him."
Clubhouse Ride, who returned $2.80 to place, was 13 3/4 lengths clear of the third-place horse, Make Music for Me. Basmati weakened to last.
Chosen Miracle, who ran in the Arcadia Stakes (gr. II) Feb. 2, was scratched.