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BIG ’CAP CHAMP GAME ON DUDE RETURNS IN GRADE II SAN ANTONIO STAKES WITH FIRST POST ON SUPER BOWL SUNDAY AT 11 A.M.
ARCADIA, Calif. (Feb. 2, 2012) – Defending Santa Anita Handicap champion Game On Dude reaches a crossroads Sunday in Santa Anita’s Grade II, $200,000 San Antonio Stakes, his first race since nearly making off with the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5.
This much is clear: Game On Dude, who earned over $1.9 million in eight races last year, will be a prohibitive favorite against six opponents in the 75th running of the mile-and-one-eighth event that often serves as an important steppingstone to the Grade I Big ’Cap. The uncertainty concerns the next step by trainer Bob Baffert and the ownership group that includes Ernie Moody, the Lanni Family Trust, Bernie Schiappa and former Yankee and Dodger manager Joe Torre.
The more lucrative option is to send the 5-year-old Awesome Again gelding to Dubai for the world’s richest race, the $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 31. The purse dwarfs that of most any other event in racing including the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap scheduled for March 3. But here’s the rub: The Dubai World Cup will be contested for a third straight year over Meydan Racecourse’s synthetic surface--which is not Game On Dude’s preferred surface.
The bay gelding, in fact, has reveled over Santa Anita’s dirt strip, going three-for-three including a pair of Grade I stakes wins with the Goodwood added to the Big ’Cap. He was beaten in his two races over synthetics as well as a pair over wet dirt tracks. Only six Santa Anita Handicaps had been run faster than when Game On Dude nosed out Setsuko in 1:59.47 for 1 ¼ miles in last year’s 74th running.
If Game On Dude were to remain at Santa Anita for this year’s Big ’Cap, he would aim to join John Henry, Milwaukee Brew and Lava Man as the only two-time winners. Moreover, Game On Dude’s ultimate goal is this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, which will be held at Santa Anita.
Just how Sunday’s San Antonio might influence the pending decision by Baffert and the ownership group remains to be seen, but Game On Dude has been preparing splendidly for his 2012 debut. “He’s working really well,” said Baffert.
Chantal Sutherland, who came within less than a sixteenth of a mile from becoming the first female jockey to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic after she had gained such distinction in the Big ’Cap, will ride Game On Dude for the sixth time on Sunday.
At odds of 14-1 at Churchill Downs last November, front-running Game On Dude drew clear in a field of 12 with one-sixteenth to go in the Classic at 1 ¼ miles. Sutherland felt victory within her grasp. Runner-up Game On Dude held on stubbornly even though Drosselmeyer came flying to score by 1 ½ lengths. Second-place money of $900,000 boosted Game On Dude’s career earnings to $2,134,658 from an overall record of 5-6-4 in 14 starts.
Off recent form, the sharpest horse in Sunday’s field would appear to be Triple AAA Ranch’s Arizona homebred Uh Oh Bango, upset winner of the Grade II San Pasqual Stakes on Jan. 7 for Arizona-based trainer Kory Owens. Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith will be back in the saddle after Uh Oh Bango pushed his career earnings to $532,712 from a 5-5-2 showing in 17 career starts. He is the field’s co-high weight with Game On Dude at 123 pounds.
At entry time, Smith was just 14 wins shy of 5,000 career win photos.
Tres Borrachos, second as the 2-1 favorite in the San Pasqual when beaten by 1 ¾ lengths, will try to turn the tables on Sunday. Rafael Bejarano will ride the 7-year-old gelding who has earned $914,257. Second in his last two starts, Tres Borrachos often is competitive, but hasn’t done much winning: four victories in 36 starts. The Ecton Park gelding trained by Marty Jones for George Hicker and Button Stable, shows but a single victory in his last 19 races, the Grade II San Diego Handicap at Del Mar last July.
The complete field for the San Antonio Stakes, with jockeys and weights in post position order: Tres Borrachos, Rafael Bejarano, 120; Uh Oh Bango, Mike Smith, 123; Game On Dude, Chantal Sutherland, 123; El Gato Malo, Corey Nakatani, 118; Ashtar, Kevin Krigger, 120; Victory Pete, Martin Garcia, 118, and Skipshot, Joseph Talamo, 118.
The San Antonio will be run as the seventh race on a program of eight races. There will be an early first post of 11 a.m. in deference to the Super Bowl.