Big 'Cap Rematch in Charles Town Classic?

Big 'Cap Rematch in Charles Town Classic?
Photo: Benoit Photography
Game On Dude and jockey Chantal Sutherland, right, outrun Setsuko (Victor Espinoza), left, to win the Grade I, Santa Anita Handicap.

The first two finishers in the controversial March 5 Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) are ready for a rematch—in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, proof of what a $1 million purse and graded status can do for a race.

Game On Dude and Setsuko, one-two in the Big ’Cap, are among a field of 10 expected for the April 16 Charles Town Classic, now a grade III event, at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races. Game On Dude nipped Setsuko at the wire in the Santa Anita Handicap but had to survive a long stewards’ inquiry before being held up as the official winner.

Game On Dude, owned by the Lanni Family Trust, Mercedes Stable, and Bernie Schiappa, and Setsuko, owned by Wertheimer and Frere, will again race 1 1/8 miles on dirt but with a twist: Because Charles Town has a three-quarter-mile racing surface, they will travel around three turns in the Classic.

Trainer Bob Baffert April 11 confirmed Game On Dude is going to Charles Town, but he will have a new rider in David Flores for the Classic. Baffert said Flores has plenty of experience riding at Fairplex Park, which has an even smaller five-eighths-mile surface.

“It’s only because he’s a 'bull ring' expert,” Baffert said. “I hope it works.”

Flores flew to West Virginia from California last year and rode West Point Thoroughbreds' Awesome Gem to a second-place finisher behind Researcher in the Charles Town Classic.

Baffert said Chantal Sutherland, who rode Game On Dude in the Big ’Cap, will be back aboard after the Charles Town Classic.

Game On Dude, a 4-year-old Kentucky-bred gelding by Awesome Again  , worked six furlongs in company with Mythical Power April 10 in a bullet 1:12 at Santa Anita Park. Also on the work tab at the California track was Setsuko, a 4-year-old Kentucky-bred colt by Pleasantly Perfect   who worked five furlongs in a bullet :59.20 for trainer Richard Mandella.

“He couldn’t be better,” Mandella said of Setsuko, who came out of the Big ’Cap with a cut on his leg but has recovered.

WinStar Farm’s Rule, also expected for the Charles Town Classic, worked a half-mile in :49.08 at Belmont Park in New York April 10 for trainer Todd Pletcher. Rule, a 4-year-old Kentucky homebred by Roman Ruler, is seeking his first victory of the year after three stakes starts in South Florida.

Rule finished third in last year’s Florida Derby (gr. I) and was on the Triple Crown trail before being sidelined with an injury.

“Rule breezed extremely well,” Pletcher told New York Racing Association officials. “He had success at Delta Downs as a 2-year-old, which is encouraging in that he should like the tighter turns at Charles Town.”

Delta Downs Racetrack & Casino has a three-quarter-mile racing surface as well.

Owner/trainer Luis Oliveras’ Tackleberry, a two-time grade II winner already this year, will make his first start outside of Florida in the Charles Town Classic. The 4-year-old Florida-bred gelding by Montbrook likes to race on or near the lead, and it has served him well at distances from seven furlongs to 1 1/8 miles in 2011.

Others expected in a field limited to 10 starters are Acclamation, a grade I winner on turf; Awesome Gem; Duke of Mischief  , close fourth behind Tackleberry in the grade II Gulfstream Park Handicap; Gone Astray  , seventh in last year’s Charles Town Classic after clipping heels; No Advantage, winner of the General George Stakes (gr. II) at Laurel Park earlier this year; and Tizway  , a tight third in the Gulfstream Park Handicap.

Researcher, winner of the first two editions of the Classic, isn’t in the field this year. He finished an even fourth in his comeback race at Charles Town in March.

Conditions for the Classic give preference to horses that have won grade or group stakes (in order of grade I, II, and III) since April 16, 2009. Thus, with entries to be drawn April 13, the makeup of the field could change, officials said.

Post time for the Classic is set for about 10:30 p.m. EDT on a five-stakes program that begins at 6 p.m.

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