Classic favorite Game On Dude wins races, not headlines

Game On Dude and his former jockey Chantal Sutherland won the Grade II San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita.
Game On Dude and his former jockey Chantal Sutherland won the Grade II San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita. ASSOCIATED PRESS

ARCADIA, Cali. — Through no fault of his own, the storyline Game On Dude carries with him is not as glamorous as some of the more recent yarns that have dominated the pre-race hype for the Breeders' Cup Classic.

He is not an established champion trying for a repeat win a la Curlin in 2008. And after three straight seasons of feisty distaffers taking on males (Havre de Grace in 2011 and Zenyatta in 2009-10), the potential of Game On Dude becoming the first gelding to take the $5 million test doesn't exactly hold the same fascination with the public.

The mainstream and marketing types may love its sexy backstories. Those within Game On Dude's circle, however, are quite pleased if the only banner he wields heading into Saturday's 11/4-mile Classic is that of the well-deserved race favorite.

The extra level of respect which has eluded Game On Dude in his 20 career starts will undoubtably come his way should he triumph in the field of 12 that were entered Monday for the headline event of the two-day, 15-race Breeders' Cup World Championship card.

After drawing post No. 5 for Saturday's Classic, Game On Dude was installed as the 9-to-5 morning-line choice over a bunch that features eight other Grade I winners.

Last year's Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs was a metaphor for Game On Dude's public perception struggle in that there is always something or someone else that stands out above him.

After heading every point of call in the race, the gelded son of 1998 Classic winner Awesome Again was caught in the stretch by long-shot Drosselmeyer — a defeat that ultimately cost Game On Dude the Eclipse Award for champion older male.

Even if he had won last year at odds of 14-to-1, the focus would have likely been on his now former jockey Chantal Sutherland becoming the first female rider to take the event.

While his only defeats in six starts this year have been a 12th-place finish in the $10 million Dubai World Cup and a runner-up effort in the Grade I Pacific Classic, a loss Saturday combined with wins by either Wise Dan in the Mile or Point of Entry in the Turf could again result in no year-end honors for the Bob Baffert trainee.

"He doesn't get the respect he deserves so let's win this one and hopefully he'll get the respect," said Bernie Schiappa, who co-owns Game On Dude along with Joe Torre, Mercedes Stable, and Lanni Family Trust. "He's better now than he's ever been. He's just an amazing animal who rises to the challenge whatever it is and he's going to perform all the time. Sometimes it's not good enough but hopefully this time it is."

Having Santa Anita Handicap winner Ron the Greek, multiple Grade I victor Flat Out and the always steady Mucho Macho Man in the mix gives the Classic a well-matched bunch. One thing no horse has achieved though is besting Game On Dude on the Santa Anita surface.

The dark bay gelding with a penchant for dictating the early fractions is 5-for-5 on the Santa Anita main track including a 31/4-length triumph in the Grade I Awesome Again (formerly Goodwood Stakes) on Sept. 29 with Rafael Bejarano in the irons.

"Since he came back from Dubai, the form has stayed right there," said Baffert, who is seeking his first career win in the Classic. "The class factor always comes through in the big races. When the serious running starts, those good horses they're going to kick in.

"As long as he's doing well, he can run anywhere. But he likes it here. If he was tailing off, that would be a different story and the home track wouldn't matter but he's not."

Few of the contenders in Friday's $2 million Ladies' Classic are on the downturn with their form as well, a fact that makes the 11⁄8-miles race quite possibly the best one of the two-day card.

Despite the two-pronged undefeated presence of champions Awesome Feather and My Miss Aurelia, defending race winner Royal Delta was made the 9-to-5 pick in the eight-horse field after drawing post No. 6.

The reigning champion 3-year-old filly suffered a minor cut on a thigh Monday while being loading on a flight from New York to California but trainer Bill Mott said the cut should not jeopardize her ability to compete Friday.

"From my standpoint and her standpoint, I don't think it will be an issue," he said. "It's no different than a hockey player getting a little cut on his forehead and getting stitched up. They're athletes."

As expected, multiple Grade I winner Wise Dan was installed as the 9-to-5 morning line choice for the $2 million Breeders' Cup Mile and will break from post No. 2 in the field of nine.

The Keeneland-based Wise Dan was scheduled to ship to California on Tuesday but will now not arrive until Wednesday after having his travel plans impacted by Hurricane Sandy. The Tex Sutton flight transporting him is waiting to see if it can pick up more New York-based horses on Wednesday.

"I could just keep training him here at Keeneland, but I want to get him out there and get him on the turf one time to look around and school in the paddock," said trainer Charlie Lopresti, who will now not travel to California until Tuesday.