Tag Archives: John Henry

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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Top 5 Examples of West Coast Equine Domination in East Coast Races

Inspired by this blog post, I thought about the times when West Coast-based horses shipped to the East and totally kicked ass. What’s really weird is that when I tried to come up with instances of East Coast Elites crushing West Coast races, I came up empty. Anyone remember the last time a NY-based horse won the Big Cap? Yeah, me neither.

Anyway, here are my top five races where the East Coast Establishment experienced West Coast Domination!

5. I Want Revenge Annihilates 2009 Wood Memorial

Trainer Jeff Mullins shipped I Want Revenge east after the monster Pioneerof The Nile beat him in the Bob Lewis stakes. I Want Revenge then surprised easterners with a win in the Gotham Stakes. But I Want Revenge truly brought his A Game in the Wood Memorial, where he beat the best in the East & became a top Derby Contender. He broke dead last and had to fight his way back to the front on a messy Aqueduct stretch, but pulled away like he’d never had any trouble. While IWR was mysteriously injured the morning of the Derby and scratched, his rival Pioneerof The Nile was a well-beaten second to another Westerner, Mine That Bird.

4. Sandpit Takes 2 United Nations Handicaps

Sandpit was a champion in Brazil, then shipped to California, where he won the Oak Tree Invitational. When he shipped East he was just as good, winning back-to-back editions of the Ceasars International Handicap, which is now back to its original name, the United Nations. This was the only video of Sandpit I could find, from 1996.

3. In Excess Wins 4 In A Row

What is shameful is that I can’t find any of In Excess’s races on YouTube. In Excess was born in Ireland, won some races there, then was shipped to the US & was based in Cali. He was always hit-or-miss in California, winning the Volante Handicap, San Gabriel, San Fernando, but throwing in clunkers in the Big Cap and Strub. However, when he shipped east, he rattled off victories in the 1991 Met Mile, Suburban, Whitney and Woodward. Total. Domination.

2. John Henry In The Inaugural Arlington Million

It was the first Million-Dollar race, and John Henry was the best horse in the US, let alone the West Coast. In the 1981 Million, Euro horse The Bart stayed up on the pace set by Key To Content. John Henry was stuck in a pack of top classic turf horses from all over the US and abroad. He looked hopelessly beaten, but in the stretch, the Old Man showed just how good he was- he burst through and headed for the lead, closing the gap with every stride. He bore down on The Bart and won the race by a flare of a nostril.

1. TIZNOW CRUSHES TWO CLASSICS

Tiznow  shipped East four times and won three. He was victorious in the Super Derby, and then defeated a foreign invader in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Twice. To this day he is the only horse to win the BC Classic two times, and though the BC races are not coast-specific, Tiznow won his at the home bases of Eastern racing, Churchill and Belmont. He dominated his American rivals in the 2000 Classic, finding his toughest challenger in Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway. The two battled down the Churchill stretch, and Tiznow prevailed by a head. In 2001, Tiznow had a tough year, suffering a back injury and then running 3rd in his two Classic preps. But when it counted the most, the colt was all heart. He stayed up near the pace the whole way around, and at the top of the stretch, he made a move for the lead. At the same time, Godolphin’s Sakhee took the lead. Tiznow was game, but he looked beaten. As they raced for home, he found a new gear and matched strides with Sakhee, who refused to relent. But Tiznow would not be denied –  in the shadow of the wire, it was the Cal-bred, West Coast phenom with his valiant head in front.

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Here’s a movie I would Go See

John Henry and The Bart, 1981 Arlington MillionI was listening to Drake & Zeke Monday AM, and they were talking to a sportswriter whose article about Barbaro is in the works to be a major motion picture.  That’s exactly what we need — weeper about a beautiful horse who wins the KY Derby, gets injured and then dies.  Isn’t that basically the same plot as Million Dollar Baby? 

Why keep rehashing the Barbaro story, when there is a much more uplifting horse story just laying there at Hollywood’s feet?  I can picture it now…

AGAINST ALL ODDS: The Story of JOHN HENRY

 Old John’s story took him from Kentucky to the bayous of Louisiana to the NYC circuit to Cali and beyond, and he was connected to a host of colorful people, not the least Sam Rubin, his final owner who enjoyed his greatest success.

The beginning of the film could be a high-energy replay of the Affirmed/Alydar Belmont, the highest peak in the TB world…then the images fade into a quieter, plainer backside where a small, brown colt is tearing down the walls of his stall and throwing feed bins.  From there, the film could show him passed from owner to owner until he falls into the hands of funloving Rubin and trainer Ron MacAnally.  You can see John win the Chocolatetown Handicap and Sam accept the trophy full of hershey’s candy.  The movie progresses as John wins more, and don’t forget Whittingham’s legendary comment, “beat him? I’m just trying to outlive him!”  The climax will be his thrilling run in the inaugural Arlington Million, against the top horses in the US & Europe.  He races far back and grinds out the stretch, racing neck and neck with The Bart, surging under the wire to a photo finish.  The crowd and commentators all watch and wait for the stewards’ decision, and finally, the tote board flashes OFFICIAL — John Henry has won, by a nose, AGAINST ALL ODDS!

The story takes place in the early 80’s, which is experiencing a renaissance in pop culture.  Racing fans lov movies about our heroes, and John Henry was one of the greatest ever — 83 starts, 39 wins and over $6 mill in earnings, the first horse to reach that amount.  He raced a long time, to the age of 9, and when he rtired, it was not to stud, but to the only theme park for horses, where his many fans could visit him.  He died last year at the age of 32, and over 500 people attended his funeral, including me:-)

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