My favorite older horse, Game On Dude, returned to the races a winner today in the G2 Californian. He only faced 3 other rivals, but they were proven G2 horses: Morning Line, highly-regarded winner of the G2 Mervyn Leroy; Prayer For Relief, G2 Super Derby winner, and Kettle Corn, an up-and comer from the Sadler barn. Arizona-bred Uh Oh Bango scratched. It was expected that Game On Dude should run well in this spot, but only his die-hard fans could have predicted just how stellar he’d be.
With Chantal Sutherland in the irons, Game On Dude took the lead from the start as he usually does, but he was flanked by Morning Line in the early stages. On the backstretch run, Sutherland gave rein and the Dude drew off from the rest, leaving Morning Line in his wake. Prayer for Relief battled late-running Kettle Corn for second, but it wasn’t even close. Game On Dude hit the wire 7 lengths in front, easily.
People are saying Game On Dude is the best older horse in the country, possibly only behind I’ll Have Another in top rank of all active horses.
My, how far they’ve come. At this time last year, to suggest Game On Dude was a top tier older male was to be subjected to ridicule. Remember, Tizway had won the Met Mile & was at the top of the heap. Then, First Dude, next, Flat Out.
Game On Dude’s talent was viewed with suspicion. He’d won the Big Cap by a short margin and despite a long inquiry. Many felt he’d been the one to cause the squabble at the top of the stretch, when it was the “better horse” Twirling Candy who grew leg-weary and began the bumper cars.
When Game On Dude ran second by a scant nose to the (big-headed, roman-nosed) First Dude in the Hollywood Gold Cup, some saw it as not a confirmation of Game On Dude’s true ability, but proof that the California contingent as a whole was weak. Dude didn’t do much to change that view when he ran second in the slop at Charles Town, and he simply hated the polytrack at Del Mar.
But I had seen his grit in the Big Cap, loved his run in the HGC, and kept him among my top horses all last year. The eastern-based Tizway flaked out, Flat Out got beat by Havre de Grace, and First Dude got injured and retired. But all the while, Game On Dude kept on running, and trying, and getting better and better.
By the end of 2011, the older male division was in shambles. But when the SoCal circuit returned to Santa Anita for the final Breeders’ Cup preps, Game On Dude had his official coming-out party in the Goodwood. Facing Haskell winner Coil, old warrior Awesome Gem, and the filly, Miss Match, Game On Dude strutted his stuff on the lead in scintillating style and in a wicked time to match. It was a performance very like the one he gave today in the Californian. He entered the Breeders’ Cup the only older male to win multiple G1s, and a serious threat for Horse of the Year.
Of course, the Breeders’ Cup Classic was not supposed to be for Game On Dude – that race was Havre de Grace and Uncle Mo’s to win… except… Game On Dude, in his signature move, led the field from the gate, turned back challenges from Uncle Mo, To Honor and Serve and So You Think, then drew off in deep stretch… Only to get passed at the wire by Drosselmeyer. The Dude had proven without a doubt that he was the real deal.
Before the Triple Crown, Game On Dude was the most exciting horse in America. He had the trainer, Bob Baffert, a telegenic jockey, Chantal Sutherland, and among his ownership group was baseball great, Joe Torre. I began planning my dream HOTY campaign for him… Instead, he went to Dubai and had a disastrous run in the World Cup.
There is a long-held belief that horses don’t come back from Dubai the same as when they left, that it takes something out of them that they never get back. SO it was with bated breath that I waited for Game On Dude to return to the worktab after Dubai, and hopefully, to racing. Would he still be that sharp, gritty front running gelding I’d grown to love?
I shouldn’t have worried. And should I’ll Have Another fail at his quest to become the 12th Triple Crown winner, I will root for the gelding to take the year-end championship crown that he so richly deserves.