Game On Dude, idle since finishing fourth to Drosselmeyer in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) last June, returned to action at Santa Anita Jan. 27 with a sparkling victory to help trainer Bob Baffert continue on his torrid pace.
Guided by Rafael Bejarano, odds-on choice Game On Dude captured the seventh race, a $60,154 optional claimer at 1 1/16 miles, by 1 ¼ lengths over When We Met in 1:40.77 to give Baffert and Bejarano a sweep of the day’s co-features (VIDEO).
Baffert’s Mythical Power, idle since a dismal last-place showing in the Kelso Handicap (gr. II) at Belmont Park Oct. 10, came roaring home under Bejarano in the fourth race, a $63,400 optional claimer at seven furlongs (VIDEO).
The pair of victories gave Baffert a total of 21 on the meet’s 21st day and left him on a pace that would wipe out Doug O’Neill’s Santa Anita meet record of 56 victories that was set in 2006-07 during a meet that encompassed 85 days. Baffert is working within 76-day parameters this season. His winning rate at the 2010-11 meet is just a shade under 44%, a figure seemingly unattainable even by Baffert’s lofty standards.
Game On Dude, who earned his place in the Belmont Stakes with a 4 ½-length triumph in the Lone Star Derby (gr. III) one month before, went to the sidelines following his effort in the third leg of the Triple Crown. “He did something to a hind ankle,” Baffert said, “so I had to stop on him.”
The 4-year-old gelded son of Awesome Again returned impressively, however, as Bejarano brought him from behind to win going away. “He broke a little slow,” said Santa Anita’s leading rider. “I let him get comfortable, and he was really good. He ran really strong.”
“He had been working really well,” Baffert said. “We’ve always been really high on him. This was a stepping stone. Today’s race was what we were looking for.”
Bet down to 1-2 favoritism, Game On Dude returned $3, $2.60, and $2.10. When We Met, who paid $5.40 and $2.80 with Anne Sanguinetti aboard, nosed out another Baffert runner, El Martillo, for the place. The latter paid $3.20 to show with comebacking Martin Garcia in the irons.
A lightly raced 4-year-old owned by the Lanni Family Trust, Mercedes Stable and Bernard Schiappa, Game On Dude earned $35,400 to bring his career total to $252,658 from three wins in seven starts.
Mythical Power, a 5-year-old son of Congaree , earlier dispatched stablemate Red Door Drive by 1 ¾ lengths while completing the seven-furlong distance in 1:20.12 as the 3-2 favorite. Noble Court finished third in the field of six.
The result meant a measure of redemption for Mythical Power, who had run second to Quality Road in Saratoga’s Woodward Stakes (gr. I) Sept. 4 prior to running last, beaten by 28 ½ lengths, in Belmont Park’s Kelso Handicap Oct. 3.
Winner of the 2010 Texas Mile (gr. III) and the 2009 Lone Star Derby, Mythical Power provided Baffert with confidence enough to continue preparing him for the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) March 5.
“I’m trying to get him ready for the Big ’Cap,” Baffert had commented prior to the race, and the Peachtree Stable homebred appeared to take a long stride in that direction.
Well supported after working swiftly for his comeback, Mythical Power paid $5, $3.20, and $2.40. The other Baffert entrant, Red Door Drive with Martin Pedroza aboard, paid $3.40 and $2.40 while holding on well after pressing the early pace. Noble Court, ridden by Garrett Gomez, paid $2.40 to show.
It was the fourth win in 15 starts for Mythical Power. The winning purse of $37,800 brought his total earnings to $794,840.