Who would have believed that the most talked-about member of the 2010 3-year-old class would be not Derby winner Super Saver, champion Lookin At Lucky or Drosselmeyer – but Game On Dude, the gelding who ran 4th in the Belmont that year?
I sure wouldn’t. But I am a believer now.
Game On Dude had a magnificent campaign in 2011, quietly scooping up wins and places in stakes across the country, culminating in a near-theft of the Breeders’ Cup Classic. With the older male division in such a disarray, he almost took the Eclipse in that group and was name-dropped for Horse of the Year. But that was last year – on Sunday, Game On Dude proved he had not lost a step since the Breeders’ Cup with his professional win in the G2 San Antonio. He is a lean, mean, running machine, and the championship is his for the taking in 2012.
This bay son of Awesome Again, trained by the master, Bob Baffert, is on the verge of becoming our next great gelding. He has been campaigned in a much more rational manner than the previous heir to the “supergelding” crown, Mine That Bird. Though he did not win any 3-year-old classics, he does have a Big Cap on his resume, as well as a hard-fought second in the Hollywood Gold Cup. He has an opportunity to repeat in the Big Cap this year, and with no First Dude to run him down, he could score the Gold Cup, too. Then there are the East Coast races – Whitney, Woodward, Stephen Foster, Jockey Club Gold Cup – the possibilities are endless.
To top it all off, his most successful pilot is Chantal Sutherland, a female jockey not afraid to promote herself as well as her sport. Sutherland is a fan favorite and on her way to becoming one of the best riders in the country, thanks to Game On Dude.
I know many fans are skeptical of the Dude’s potential – but think about this – how many people were fans of John Henry after his first few stakes wins?
Game on Dude has a record of 6-4-1 in 15 starts – 12 of those starts have been graded stakes, with 2 G1s, one G2 and one G3 win.
In John Henry’s first 15 starts, he had this record: 3-2-2. Of his first 15 starts, his only stakes win was in the Lafayette Futurity, which was ungraded at the time. But horses raced more back then, and this is only John’s juvenile record. Let’s look at John Henry’s record at a more reasonable point: his early 5-year-old season. By February of 1980, his 5-year-old season, John Henry had raced 43 times, with a record of 16-9-5. Seven of those wins were in stakes races, but he had yet to win a Grade 1. That year was when John Henry took the first steps toward becoming the horse we remember – in March he won his first G1, the San Luis Rey. It was the first of four G1 races he would win that season. He would never finish worse than 3rd in 1980, and he only did that once. Who was the really big star of 1980? Spectacular Bid, of course.
John Henry is a legend of racing. But he started out just like Game On Dude – a very good horse with a lot to prove.
We are at the beginning of a legendary run here. Don’t let a funny name or nostalgia for a long-past (and never coming back) era blind you to the charm of Game On Dude.