Up the Backstretch: Sunday was 'Redemption Day'

The Sports NetworkAugust 26, 2013 

In less than three weeks Jews around the world will be observing Yom Kippur or Day of Atonement. Sins are confessed publicly with the hope of having one's name written in the Book of Life for another year.

This past Sunday was "Redemption Day" for two of the leading thoroughbreds in training as their connections were hoping to have the horses further enhance their names in the annals of racing.

Leading female Royal Delta and Horse of the Year contender Game On Dude returned to the scenes of frustrating losses in 2012 and proceeded to make amends for those unexpected defeats.

Leading off was Royal Delta and jockey Mike Smith, who gave up the mount on Game On Dude for the day, in the Personal Ensign Invitational Handicap at Saratoga.

Last year, the Bill Mott-trained champion lost by a half-length to Love and Pride in the 1 1/8-mile handicap for fillies and mares. She was the 7-10 favorite and was just not herself.

"Everything went wrong, didn't it, last year," said Smith. "She got really, really hot. I didn't think I rode her really well last year. I was just getting to know her. I didn't let her use that big stride that she has early. I should have then because I think I would have won that one. But you live and learn, and it's just getting better and better."

Sunday could have been a similar situation. The 5-year-old mare was sweating during the warm up leading to the start. The television announcers were concerned that a repeat of 2012 might occur.

Nothing to worry about. Royal Delta broke sharply from the gate took over the lead up the backstretch and then, as she did in the Delaware Handicap, ran away from her four rivals to a 4 1/2-length victory.

"I just was happy I got away good today, and once we did that and she got into her monstrous stride; horses seem to have to take two (strides) to her one," said Smith. "She's a machine. Down the lane, she got to looking around the track a little bit, so I got after her just a little to keep her going."

Royal Delta, two-time winner of the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic, left no doubt who is the best female thoroughbred of 2013. She's locked up her third straight Eclipse Award and second as champion older filly and mare.

Approximately 2 1/2 hours later at Del Mar, Game On Dude started in his third 1 1/4-mile Pacific Classic in an effort of redeeming last year's half-length loss to Dullahan.

Dullahan was back for the race, unlike Love and Pride, and was made the 7-2 second choice behind the 17-10 favorite in the 12-horse field.

"It was very emotional for me. I watched it with (wife) Jill in the paddock, in a room with just the two of us and the paddock judge," said Game On Dude's trainer Bob Baffert. "To go through what we did with him last year, getting run down late like we did. And for Bernie ( co-owner Schiappa), it's like his child. If you want to (anger) Bernie just say something bad about Game On Dude."

As noted earlier, Game on Dude's regular jockey Mike Smith was in Saratoga Sunday. He was originally to be replaced by Joel Rosario, the Kentucky Derby and Dubai World Cup-winning rider. Rosario was injured Friday and unable to fulfill the assignment. Baffert turned to his stable's regular jockey, Martin Garcia.

Garcia exercises Game On Dude in the morning and had ridden the 6-year-old gelding early on.

"I ran the race in my mind and there was so much other speed," Baffert said. "But at the end of the day, I told Martin: 'You have the fastest horse so don't be afraid to get bold with him.'"

Everything worked perfectly. The gelding broke sharply and moved quickly to the rail to set the pace. The other speed horses had problems, but none bigger than Game On Dude completely on his game.

"Then the way he did it. He just made a huge statement. It was just a great day for horse racing in Southern California,' Baffert exclaimed.

The gelding, perfect in five starts this year, registered a dominating 8 1/2-length victory over a field of handicap horses that would be the equal of a Breeders' Cup Classic.

"I was nervous. I told Bernie what ever he has, it's catching," said part owner Joe Torre. "I had been pretty calm, and I'd watched "Dude" run a few times now. But for some reason today I was jumpy as all get out. I can't tell you how exciting it was to watch him. The stretch run, that was goose-bump stuff there."

Atonement came early for Royal Delta and Game On Dude. Wouldn't it be nice to see these two and defending Horse of the Year Wise Dan get together for a race.

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