In his return to Santa Anita, Game On Dude won for the first time since taking the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) in March, holding sway over late-running Awesome Gem by a half-length in the $250,000 Goodwood Stakes (gr. I) Oct. 1 (VIDEO).
In spite of battling on a wicked pace, Game On Dude proved resilient in the stretch, tallying under strong encouragement from Chantal Sutherland. Game On Dude earns a slot in the starting gate for the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs with the Goodwood victory.
Bob Baffert trains Game On Dude for a partnership that includes Diamond Pride, the Lanni Family Trust, Mercedes Stable, and Bernard Schiappa. The 4-year-old son of Awesome Again ended a four-race losing streak since he won the Big 'Cap by a nose March 5. Game on Dude is now three-for-three on the Santa Anita main track.
Out of the Devil His Due mare Worldly Pleasure, Game On Dude was bred in Kentucky by Adena Springs.
Awesome Gem, next-to-last on the final turn, came on well for second, with the Baffert-trained 3-year-old Coil settling for third. The final time for the 1 1/8-mile event was 1:47.36.
Tres Borrachos sprinted to the early lead for Joel Rosario over Coil as Game On Dude, a little slow into stride, was hustled up to the leaders by Sutherland. Under pressure on the outside from Game On Dude, Tres Borrachos stepped the opening quarter-mile in a lively :22.30 and was still in front after a half-mile in a sizzling :45.28. Game On Dude put his head in front after completing six furlongs in 1:09.03.
"He likes to get it out there and go," Baffert said of Game On Dude. "I told Chantal to have the lead at all costs, and I thought down the backside I shouldn’t have said at all costs. She rides the horse with a lot of confidence.
“He’s never been a good gate horse, but she gets him out well and she lets him run. She has a great left hand and she is tough to get by when she has the right horse. Down the backside I thought Coil was just going to pick them all off, but he got a little tired."
Coil, who had settled into third for Martin Garcia, appeared ready to reel in the leaders on the final turn and began to cut into the advantage, passing Tres Borrachos in the stretch before beginning to hang. Game On Dude, urged on by Sutherland, repelled Coil to lead by two lengths at mid-stretch. He finished willingly while drifting inward late.
“Bob wanted this horse in the race early," Sutherland said. "He’s the boss and it agreed with (Game On Dude's) style. We broke a little sluggish and I wanted to be sure and press Joel.
"I could hear Trevor Denman through the stretch and I knew it was getting tighter and tighter. I couldn’t see who was coming but Trevor helped push me on.”
Awesome Gem, angled out for the drive by David Flores after a ground-saving trip from the rear of the pack, closed with a flourish from fourth at the eighth pole, but ran out of time. The Longacres Mile (gr. III) winner last time out finished 1 1/2 lengths in front of Coil.
“He’s an amazing horse," Flores said of Awesome Gem, who has earned more than $2.7 million in his career. "Every time, he just keeps trying. He just keeps pushing and trying; I never give up on him. He’s very honest."
The Argentine-bred mare Miss Match was 3 1/4 lengths farther back in fourth, followed by Tres Borrachos, Preamble, Golden Itiz, and Nijinsky's Song.
Game On Dude ran his career mark to 5-3-1 in 13 starts with earnings of $1,234,658. The Goodwood victory was worth $150,000. The dark bay/brown gelding was coming off a fourth-place finish in the Pacific Classic (gr. I) Aug. 28.
Game On Dude carried 121 pounds as the 11-10 choice and paid $4.20, $2.60, $2.20. The 8-year-old Awesome Gem, also a son of Awesome Again, returned $4 and $2.60 while capping a $14.20 exacta. Coil, rebounding from a disastrous last-place finish in the Travers Stakes (gr. I) last time, was $2.40 to show.
Pacific Classic (gr. I) winner Acclamation, also entered to run in the Clement L. Hirsch Turf Championship (gr. IIT) at Santa Anita Oct. 2, was scratched.