By Julian Muscat
Bob Baffert and pizzazz go hand in hand.
When Baffert was rushed to hospital here March 26, most assumed that pizzazz ahead of the Emirates Airline Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) went with him. They weren’t counting on Bernie Schiappa, part-owner of Game On Dude.
Schiappa took to Baffert’s media-savvy manner like a camel to the desert. He was a constant source of upbeat bulletins on Baffert’s progress until the California trainer was released from hospital March 29.
Many balked when the 5-year-old son of Awesome Again with the aggressive running style was last out of the draw barrel and thus obliged to start from post position 14 of 14. Not Schiappa.
“Terence Lanni (with whom Schiappa shared Game On Dude, and who died last year) was born on March 14,” he said at the time. “It has become a special number for us.”
Asked again Friday about the wide starting gate, he said: “It’s just fine. If we were first out and had the entire pick, we’d have taken 11. We wanted to be towards the outside anyway.”
At various times Schiappa has compared Game On Dude to Mohammed Ali and Jack Nicklaus: the boxer for Game On Dude’s fighting spirit, the golfer for his ability to win on any golf course. “The (Tapeta) surface will make no difference to our horse,” Schiappa averred. “He can win anywhere, on anything.”
This is Schiappa’s third visit to Dubai. He was here in 2000-01, when Ladies Din, the horse he shared with long-time friend Lanni, cut little ice in successive runnings of the Dubai Duty Free (UAE-III).
He is back for more, this time with a horse his trainer maintains is ideal for the race. “Bob knows what it takes; he has won it twice before with Silver Charm (1998) and Captain Steve (2001),” Schiappa said.
“The horse has been going so good, and we’d rather run for $10 million than $750,000 in California even though it’s a long trip out and a different sort of race to what he’s used to.”
Although Schiappa has held court for five days he recognizes that victory for Game On Dude will see him usurped in the post-race media scrum by his jockey. That’s because Chantal Sutherland becomes the first female jockey to ride in the world’s richest race on Saturday.
“I’m prepared for it because I would be proud if it happened,” Schiappa said. “I just hope anyone involved with the horse has reason to talk to you guys afterwards.”
That would cap a tumultuous week that Schiappa will remember for the rest of his life.