Tag Archives: bob baffert

Revenge Of The Dude

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.

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2009 PREDICTIONS

At midnight I drank a New Year’s toast to the brand new 3yos of 2009, and the promise of glory and heartbreak on the Derby trail.  Here is the OFFICIAL Infield Derby Top 10 List, Week 1!

10) MIDSHIPMAN :  BC Juvy winner by Unbridled’s Song would have been in the top 5 were it not for the bad luck of being part of the Stonerside dispersal.  Instead of staying in CA with Baffert, the talented colt is spending his winter in Dubai.  I admire the Sheikh’s love and dedication to the sport and his magnificent training center, but his Derby tactics just haven’t been all that successful.  Midshipman could be the one to prove me wrong, but I think the #2 colt has an even better chance –

9) SQUARE EDDIE :  Raced exclusively on turf and synthetic, this son of Smart Strike began his career in Europe before joining Paul Reddam’s racing stable.  His impressive 5-length victory in the Lane’s End Futurity set him up for a tough run in the BC Juveile, where he tracked Midshipman the whole way around.  He has never raced on dirt, but his sire has gotten nice runners on all surfaces (Curlin & English Channel).  Promises to be a major player in the Cali preps, beginning with the San Rafael on Jan 17.

8) PIONEEROF THE NILE : Baffert’s replacement for Midshipman, this colt won a hard-fought running of the CashCall Futurity on Dec. 20.  The Zayat Stables runner by Empire Maker has always been charging at the final furlong, and seems to be on the improve.  Surface questions also surround him: though he broke his maiden on Saratoga’s dirt, he has only run in synthetic stakes.  Trivia: His damsire is Lord At War, the same as Baffert’s ’02 Derby winner War Emblem.  And just as an aside, I hate the preposition dangling off of “Pioneer”  in his name…

7) IMPERIAL COUNCIL : Impressive maiden winner also sired by Empire Maker.  Out of a Thunder Gulch mare, he promises to only get better as distances stretch out.  He is owned by newish partnership Sequoia Racing Stable, headed by longtime racing pro Reynolds Bell Jr.  In Shug McGaughey’s barn, Imperial Council has a expert conditioner plotting his runup to the roses. 

6) BEETHOVEN :  John Ward got Monarchos to the ’01 Derby and is using that  experience to train this son of Sky Mesa.  The colt has a win over the Churchill Downs surface, in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at 1 1/6 miles on Nov. 29.  He toughed out the win in a three-way duel down the stretch, showing a lot of guts for a 2yo.  There are a few questions however– dam Moonlight Sonata is by sprint sire Carson City, and both parents had short, injury-plagued careers.  Ward is a careful, old-school trainer, though, and the colt has had no problems so far.

5) BREAK WATER EDISON : Such a cumbersome name for a very talented colt.  This son of Lemon Drop Kid has taken his time finding the winner’s circle in stakes, finally getting some Gr3 money in the one mile Nashua on Nov. 2.  The trainee of John Kimmel stayed close to a hot pace in that race, yet found enough in the tank to draw away impressively and finish in 1:35.8.  Break Water Edison should stretch out nicely as the races do on the Derby trail.  I only wish he had a more palatable name…

4) WELL POSITIONED : Another promising maiden winner, this one owned by Paul Pompa, Jr. of Big Brown fame.  The son of Awesome Again broke his maiden by a devastating 14 lengths, which lit up Pompa’s phone with offers from many looking for Derby prospects.  The aptly-named colt is trained by Pat Reynolds.  The colt’s final time in the mile maiden race was 1:38 3/5, while older horses running in the Discovery Handicap later that day ran 2 seconds slower in covering the same distance.  Pompa appeared well-positioned once again for classic success, though there hasn’t been any major announcement about ownership changes or future plans for the colt since the big win, which leads me to believe there might be an issue somewhere. 

3) CHARITABLE MAN : A favorite of mine from the summer, this son of Lemon Drop Kid pulled away strongly to win the 7f Belmont Futurity. Like father, like son.   Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, this gorgeous dark bay out of a Saint Ballado mare figures to relish the added distances on the spring classics.  An injury knocked him out of the fall juvenile races, but I’ve heard he seems to be doing well and will be dangerous in the Derby preps.

2) VINEYARD HAVEN : He was Bobby Frankel’s best 2yo since Empire Maker, winner of the Gr1 Champagne Stakes and Gr1 Hopeful and early favorite for the BC Juvy.  The supplemental entry fee of $180,000 kept him out of the big race, but not out of the sight of Sheikh Mohammed.  This son of blog favorite Lido Palace was snatched up for an undisclosed (read:ungodly) sum just after the juvenile.  He, too will be in Dubai for the runup to the Derby, but of all the horses sent there for training over the past several years, Vineyard Haven seems to be the one who could pull off the impossible.  He’s fast, he’s bred to go long, and he can win on dirt.

1) OLD FASHIONED :  He is a grey colt by Unbridled’s Song, trained by Larry Jones and owned by Fox Hill Farm.  How poetic would it be for a half-bro* to Eight Belles to win the Kentucky Derby?  In all seriousness, the Fox Hill Farm crew have come dangerously close to winning the roses the past several years, with the unlucky Rockport Harbor, whose injured foot kept him off the Derby trail in ’05;  the tough, speedy Hard Spun, who set the pace in the ’07 Derby and hung on for 2nd; and of course, Eight Belles, the only horse who came close to Big Brown in the ’08 Derby.   Old Fashioned ran a lights out Remsen at 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.33, by a stunning 7 lengths.  Of course, the soundness issue will be talked to death, as will the strength of the bottom side of his pedigree.  But Old Fashioned looks like a Derby winner to me, and he has the connections to make it all the way. 

 *Eight Belles and Old Fashioned share a sire, and for my purposes on today’s blog, I used the human definition of “half brother”.  However, the two horses are not technically considered half-siblings because they are not out of the same mare.

Happy New Year!  

Happy Birthday Thoroughbreds!!!

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