Tag Archives: Chantal Sutherland

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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What Does Game On Dude Have In Common With John Henry?

Chantal Sutherland, aboard Game On Dude celebrates winning the San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, CA. Photo by Eclipse Sportswire.

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.

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Catching UP with The Infield

MO TERMS broke his maiden on Feb. 25 at Turfway Park!  Wahoo!  Go Mo & Trainer Mary McKinley!  The dark bay colt won a $7500 Maiden Claiming event at a mile under jockey E. Wilkinson.  His victory comes after months of close calls, most recently a 4th on Feb 2.  

I caught up on the last couple episodes of JOCKEYS during my hiatus.   Chantal and Mike are very competitive with each other…Joe Talamo probably should have gotten some kind of suspension after three incidents of swaggin’ in one day.  The look inside the stewards’ office was pretty neat, something I have never seen before…the tall jockey, whose name I cannot ever remember but he was in from Arlington Park, struggled to find mounts and eventually decided to move his saddle to Kentucky…Aaron Gryder lost the mount on the filly named after his daughter, Grace Gryder, to Talamo…Talamo won the race and left an “autographed” winners’ circle shot on Gryder’s locker…it was pretty cool seeing all of the champion jockeys get together at the local to chat and give Joe a hard time…I want a copy of Mike’s Holy Bull DVD! 

The penultimate episode airs on Friday, and I hope it gets more into the Breeders’ Cup preparations.  Also, Orthodox, the horse Jon Court rode to victory in the 2nd episode, won an allowance race last week.  Speaking of Jon, he is riding at Oaklawn this season and has won 12 races in 106 starts, the 6th leading rider in Hot Springs.  Chantal Sutherland recently rode Infield favorite Lickety Lemon to a 5th place finish in the La Zanzara H. at Santa Anita.  Kayla Stra was 2nd in the third race yesterday at Santa Anita, on Lethal Dose.

Later this month, I am taking a trip to Tucson, AZ, to check out the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program.  I will have a full account of the experience as live as I can get it, so stay tuned!

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VERDICT: JOCKEYS is a WINNER

Joe Talamo(left) poses with Michael Baze at Del Mar, before reality show stardom.

Joe Talamo(left) poses with Michael Baze at Del Mar, before reality show stardom.

I tell you, it’s like they read my mind.  From the opening theme to the cliffhangers between the commercials, Animal Planet totally nailed the modern docu-drama asthetic with Jockeys.  The soundtrack is hip, the visuals are colorful and capture the activity on the track.  The frenetic, MTV editing keeps viewers glued to the action and the individual jockeys’ storylines. 

They’ve got all of the character archtypes:  arrogant youngster in Joe Talamo, the aging Hall of Famer in Mike Smith and the struggling newcomer in Kayla Stra, plus the supportive yet competitive love interest in Chantal Sutherland.  Aaron Gryder plays the Family Man.  Supporting characters in the first 2 eps included Jon Court in the “best Friend” role and Cory Nakatani as the “wounded warrior”.  Garret Gomez made a cameo as well, as the hot shot top winning jock everybody is chasing.

Unlike other reality show subjects, the jockeys face death daily:  in the opening credits alone, there are at least 2 spills.  In the first ep, Cory Nakatani goes down in a turf stake and is out for the meet (the horse was fine).  In a touching scene early on, the jocks share a prayer with the race track chaplain before heading out to the track.  Underscoring the danger is the thrill of victory, as when Talamo pulls off an upset with a horse named Booyah, or when Smith shows off on the champion mare Zenyatta.

Of course, no reality program is complete without relationship drama.  Unfortunately, this is so far the weakest part of the show.  Mike Smith is dating Chantal Sutherland, don’t you know?  But she lives and rides in Canada, and must make the difficult choice between her career and her love life.  Santa Anita is a much tougher circuit than Woodbine.  She, of course, moves in with Mike & rearranges his closet.  Maybe I’m just too cynical, but that part seemed so forced.  I *did* like when they showed her rooting for Mike on Zenyatta during the second half of the show.  The lovebirds could grow on me, though.  It’s early yet.

Kayla Stra broke my heart in this episode, going barn door to door, begging for mounts in the wee hours of the morning.  Breaking into the biz is a bitch.  When she finally gets a horse to ride, the cantankerous critter nearly flips in the gate and sends Stra bailing out the back.  Back in the saddle after a reset, she rides up the track, earning only her $75 mount fee.  To add injury to insult, her foot is bruised in the starting gate action and so she has to sit and soak it after the losing ride. 

In all, Jockeys has a lot going for it and I look forward to next week’s installment.  From the promos, the show is going to look into flipping and other tortures jockeys put themselves through to make weight.  I’ve already got it Tivo’d.

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Filed under Animal Planet, Jockeys, promoting racing, zenyatta