Breeders' Cup a proving grounds for Game On Dude

Game On Dude, with Martin Garcia up, triumphed in the $1,000,000, Grade I Pacific Classic at Del Mar in August. He enters the Breeders' Cup Classic having won his five starts this year.
Game On Dude, with Martin Garcia up, triumphed in the $1,000,000, Grade I Pacific Classic at Del Mar in August. He enters the Breeders' Cup Classic having won his five starts this year. ASSOCIATED PRESS

ARCADIA, Cali. — There is irony in the fact the main story line regarding Game On Dude heading into this year's Breeders' Cup Classic centers around what he lacks.

For in a career that currently features seven Grade I wins and more than $5.6 million in earnings, a case could easily be made that his connections couldn't ask for anything more out of the durable dark bay gelding.

Co-owner Bernie Schiappa does still have one particular demand of the 6-year-old son of Awesome Again.

"I don't really think he gets too much respect. Everybody it seems tries to find a way to knock the horse," Schiappa said just after Game On Dude had sizzled through a five-furlong move in :59 at Santa Anita Park Monday morning.

"Hopefully Saturday he'll show them how good he really is."

Fair or not, Game On Dude's two previous losses in the Breeders' Cup Classic have haunted him despite his more than 15 career triumphs.

However, in what will be his third consecutive swing at the $5 million, 11/4-miles test, the Bob Baffert-trainee was installed as the 8-to-5 morning line favorite and will break from post No. 9 in a field of 12 entered for Saturday's headline event of the two-day Breeders' Cup World Championships.

Post positions for all 14 Breeders' Cup races were drawn Monday with reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan deemed the even-money pick to repeat against nine others in the Breeders' Cup Mile.

Two-time defending Breeders' Cup Distaff winner Royal Delta was given the slight 8-to-5 edge in the morning line over 3-year-old Princess of Sylmar in the six-horse field for this year's 11⁄8-mile test on Friday.

The Classic stands among the last demons for Game On Dude to shake off. In 2011, his front-running style had him leading with less than 100 yards to go before Drosselmeyer came running late on the outside to snatch that win.

Last year's Breeders' Cup brought the angst early with Game On Dude missing the break and finishing seventh, costing him any chance at year-end hardware.

The current version of "The Dude" is arguably the best it's even been. He has won six straight races, five this year, since last November's Breeders' Cup defeat. And if he finally wins the Classic Saturday, the elusive Horse of the Year title will likely be his for the taking.

"It'd be really special for him and for me and everyone involved," Schiappa said of possible year-end honors. "He is a different horse. He just seems to have gotten a lot better, a lot stronger.

"You look at him and he looks like a regular horse. You would never think he was a champion horse when you look at him. But on game day, if you watch him you see when he gets behind the gate, he swells up and he gets ready."

Tactically, Game On Dude remains committed to being on or near the front end, winning his five starts this year by a combined 241/4 lengths — including an 81/2-length demolition in the Grade I Pacific Classic on August 25.

The shift Baffert and jockey Mike Smith have picked up on is an increased level of focus when Game On Dude goes about his work. He still gets down on his belly each time he runs, but the goofing off and occasional rankness has all but vanished.

"He just seems to be a stronger horse this year and more focused," said Smith, who has ridden Game On Dude in five of his last six starts. "He steps on the racetrack and he looks straightforward, he won't turn his head from side to side. He just is all business now, it's pretty cool."

Game On Dude has not started since his Pacific Classic triumph, a move Baffert said was designed to keep his charge fresh in what figures to be the defining race of his career.

The cast of rivals he will face Saturday are a near carbon copy from 2012, with defending Classic winner Fort Larned breaking from post No. 7 and last year's runner-up Mucho Macho Man alongside in post No. 6.

Fort Larned was allowed to get loose on the lead last year, but there is more potential speed this time with 3-year-old Moreno in the field and Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice likely to be sitting not far off early fractions.

Game On Dude's playbook is no secret: break strong and let him roll as he pleases. This time, he just might get his storybook result.

"We are confident he is ready to run and hopefully this can be his year," Baffert said. "It's a really tough field but the way he's run this year ... I hope he runs like an 8-to-5 shot."

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