Multiple grade I winner Game On Dude heads an expected field of six or seven in the $250,000 Native Diver Stakes-Presented by the Oak Tree Racing Association (gr. III) Dec. 1 at Betfair Hollywood Park.
A nine-time winner of almost $3 million, including the Californian (gr. II) and Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) during the spring/summer meet, Game On Dude was a disappointing seventh in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) Nov. 3. Trainer Bob Baffert attributed the defeat of his 13-10 favorite to a poor start and loss of early position.
Game On Dude, a 5-year-old gelded son of Awesome Again , will have a new rider Saturday in Hall of Famer Mike Smith. He replaces Rafael Bejarano, who gained the mount from Chantal Sutherland this fall.
Richard's Kid , a multiple grade I stakes winner formerly in the Baffert barn, figures to be Game On Dude's primary opponent in the 1 1/8-mile Cushion Track event. The 7-year-old chased Game On Dude in the Hollywood Gold Cup, Pacific Classic (gr. I), and Awesome Again Stakes (gr. I), but finished in front of him in the Breeders' Cup Classic when fifth despite jockey Garrett Gomez losing the whip inside the eighth pole.
Trainer Doug O'Neill, who now conditions Richard's Kid, is looking forward to their next encounter.
"He's definitely running," said O'Neill, who took over from Baffert before the Pacific Classic after Richard's Kid was sold privately. "He's doing super. I can't wait for Saturday."
Others scheduled to run in the Native Diver are Nonios for Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, winner of the Affirmed Handicap (gr. III) on Cushion Track in June, defending champion Kettle Corn for trainer John Sadler, Make Music for Me, Fly Lexis Fly, and possibly Groovin' Solo.
Trainer John Shirreffs had considered running Mervyn LeRoy Handicap (gr. II) winner Morning Line , but said the 5-year-old will skip the race.
Entries will be taken for the Native Diver Nov. 28.