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GAME ON DUDE, RON THE GREEK HEAD CONTENTIOUS 10-HORSE FIELD IN SATURDAY’S GRADE I SANTA ANITA HANDICAP; IT’S BAFFERT VS. MOTT IN FIRST-EVER MEETING OF TWO PAST BIG ’CAP WINNERS, FIRST POST IS 12 NOON
TWO OTHER GRADE I STAKES; THE KILROE MILE AND THE LAS VIRGENES, FOR 3-YEAR-OLD FILLIES, OFFERED ALONG WITH FREE TOTE BAG
ARCADIA, Calif. (Feb. 27, 2013)—For the first time in its 76-year history, Saturday’s Grade I, $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap presented by San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino will feature a showdown between two past winners--Bob Baffert’s Game On Dude, and Bill Mott’s Ron the Greek.
Game On Dude, winner of the 2011 Big ’Cap, comes off a sensational front-running win in the Grade II San Antonio Stakes on Feb. 3, and last year’s winner, Florida-bred and based Ron the Greek, demolished a field of Floridians in winning the Sunshine Millions Classic by 11 ¼ lengths from off the pace at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 19.
With contrasting styles, both 6-year-olds are in the hands of Hall of Fame trainers and each earned dazzling Beyer Speed figures in their last starts, with Game On Dude securing a 116, and Ron the Greek a figure of 115—all of which helps to set the stage for an epic showdown as 10 older horses get set to run a mile and a quarter in North America’s longest continually run “hundred grander.”
The complete field for the Big ’Cap, to be run as the 10th race on an 11-race program from the rail out, with comment, morning line and jockeys, is as follows:
Ron the Greek 5-2 Jose Lezcano
A winner of the Big ’Cap last year from way off pace, Florida-bred “Ron” demolished a group of Floridians in the Sunshine Millions Classic Jan. 19, earning a 115 Beyer. Fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, he’s on edge to defend his title for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott and owners Jack Hammer, Brous Stable and Wachtel Stable.
STRENGTHS: Trainer Mott has the 6-year-old gelding in top form and he looks more than ready to defend his crown in the Big ’Cap. Moreover, if Game On Dude is challenged early, Ron the Greek should be rolling from well off the pace under Lezcano, who won a “Dude-less” Big ’Cap a year ago. Although he carries six pounds more than he did last year, he gets three pounds from the favorite—which has Baffert Tweeting.
WEAKNESSES: Ask any rider who’s ridden more than one Big ’Cap and they’ll tell you it’s tougher to win from off the pace than up-close. If the favorite makes an uncontested lead, which is very possible, it may be impossible for Ron the Greek to overcome that kind of pace scenario. A deep closer, it would probably work to the “Greek’s” disadvantage if Lezcano were to try to alter his style.
Handsome Mike 20-1 Mario Gutierrez
One of two Doug O’Neill entrants, “Mike” pressed the pace in the Strub and finished a close fourth. Distance a question, but it’s likely he’ll be attentive to Game On Dude on the front end and try to stretch his speed. Last year’s Derby and Preakness connections reunite, as he’s owned by Paul Reddam and will be ridden by Mario Gutierrez.
STRENGTHS: Could have Karma in his corner, as owner Reddam has defied the odds on many occasions while occupying racing’s biggest stages. Connections unafraid to roll the dice, and as such, may well press the favorite from the outset. If Game On Dude succumbs to the pressure, Handsome Mike could be clear of the rest of the field and try to gut it out to the wire.
WEAKNESSES: Although he showed speed and signs of life in the Strub, he was beaten more than 20 lengths in the Breeders’ Cup Classic here on Nov. 4. Nothing on his form suggests that he wants a mile and a quarter against top competition at this point in his career.
Deacon Speakin’ 50-1 Alberto Delgado
If he wins, stop the presses!! Third in the Super Bowl Party Starter Handicap Feb. 3, trainer Mike Pender and owner Paul Hagemann will throw a party for the ages if this 7-year-old Washington-bred gelding upsets racing’s elites. A winner of the Portland Meadows Mile in September, he’ll be making his 57th career start in the Big ’Cap.
STRENGTHS: Pre game jitters won’t be an issue as he is bona fide grizzled veteran. He’s finished well in his last three starts going a mile on turf and will hope to have a fast pace to run at.
WEAKNESSES: He’s facing infinitely tougher horses and he’s become accustomed to running middle distances, primarily on turf. The Big ’Cap is One Tall Order for this gelding by Timber Legend.
Called to Serve 6-1 Gary Stevens
Eastern invader has won his last two starts handily, both of them at 1 1/8 miles. Trained by Nick Canani, he’ll get the services of combacking Hall of Famer Gary Stevens, who is in search of his fifth win in the Big ’Cap. Son of Afleet Alex has never been better and will try a mile and a quarter for the first time. Canani’s father, Julio, won the Big ’Cap in 1989 with Martial Law.
STRENGTHS: A horse very much on the improve who has settled in well at Santa Anita for young Nick Canani. Nobody’s better in these big-money situations than Stevens, who is seeing the ball as well as ever.
WEAKNESSES: Facing toughest competition ever. First try in a Grade I and first time at a mile and a quarter.
Clubhouse Ride 30-1 Rafael Bejarano
Although he’d be a major surprise, trainer Craig Lewis ran third in the Big ’Cap with longshot Quindici Man in 2011. Son of Candy Ride earned best career Beyer Speed figure (105) in running second to Game On Dude in the Grade II San Antonio Stakes Feb. 3. Owned by the Seidner family’s Six-S Racing Stable and Niko Petralia.
STRENGTHS: A versatile sort, he “shows up” on Game Day, no matter the distance or conditions. In the San Antonio, he got five pounds from Game On Dude. He’ll get 10 pounds from him in the Big ’Cap.
WEAKNESSES: Although he was second, beaten 6 ½ lengths in the San Antonio, there were only two horses behind him. There figure to be at least six or seven horses really running at the quarter pole on Saturday and Clubhouse Ride has never run this far. In his 26th start at age five, he faces by far his toughest assignment.
Richard’s Kid 12-1 Tyler Baze
Also trained by Doug O’Neill, Richard’s Kid is a bona fide deep closer who should get a fast pace to run at. Saturday’s senior citizen at age 8, he flopped on the grass in the Grade II San Marcos Stakes Feb. 9. He’ll lag far back early and try to reverse his recent fortunes for owners D. Kenney, Triple B Farms, Westside Rentals.com, et al.
STRENGTHS: Like Ron the Greek, Richard’s Kid is a deep closer who hopes to make his presence felt late. Although he disappointed in the Grade III Native Diver two starts back, he gave a good account of himself in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 4 on a track that appeared to favor front runners. If he brings his “A” Game, the distance is not a question.
WEAKNESSES: Although he’s had legitimate excuses in a couple races, he remains winless in five starts since being sold privately just prior to the Pacific Classic on Aug. 26 at Del Mar. His most recent outing on turf was a disaster by any accounting.
John Scott 20-1 Martin Garcia
The lone California-bred in the field, this lightly raced 6-year-old gelding has overcome a bowed tendon early in his career and has never been better, as he comes off a gutty win against state-breds going 1 1/8 miles on turf. Owned and bred in-part by John Harris’ Harris Farms, he’s been expertly managed by Carla Gaines. This is a huge jump in class.
STRENGTHS: Son of Bertrando is a fighter and he has good tactical speed, which should serve him well. He was not embarrassed when fourth in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile on Nov. 3, so he has proven he can hold his own with top horses at that distance. In light with 116 pounds, he gets nine pounds from Game On Dude.
WEAKNESSES: He’ll be facing infinitely tougher competition than he did in his most recent and the biggest question mark is the distance.
Stephanoatsee 8-1 Julien Leparoux
Video tape watchers are enamored with his second-place finish in the Strub, as he has the look of a horse who could improve with added distance. Trained by Kentucky Derby-winner Graham Motion, Stephanoatsee has trained well for the Big ’Cap and has to rate a “Puncher’s Chance.” A 4-year-old ridgling by A.P. Indy, he’s owned by his breeder, My Meadowview Farm.
STRENGTHS: He definitely has the look of a horse on the up-tick. He finished up in the Strub like horse who had plenty left in the tank and jockey Julien Leparoux knows it. He’s trained very well since the race for Motion and looks every bit like a horse who may be capable of asserting himself in his first Grade I test. It’ll be up to Leparoux to determine where he places him early, as it would appear he can sit mid-pack or make a run from far back. He drops two pounds off his last race and gets nine from Game On Dude.
WEAKNESSES: His big second in the Strub was accomplished from way off the pace, and that may not be a viable option in the Big ’Cap—depending upon how much pressure the favorite is subjected to. It’s one thing to look good finishing at 1 1/8 miles, but the mile and quarter is often “a different kettle of fish.”
Game On Dude 6-5 Mike Smith
Winner of the Big ’Cap in 2011, he comes off a sensational win in the San Antonio, earning a best last-out Beyer of 116. Although well beaten, he was the 6-5 favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Classic Nov. 3, and is arguably the best older horse in the world today. Hall of Famers Baffert & Smith love the big stage. Owned in part by baseball great Joe Torre.
STRENGTHS: Strictly the horse to beat. In the best of hands with Baffert and Smith. The latter being the all-time leading Breeders’ Cup-winning rider who is the best big money jock this side of Jerry Bailey. Proven ability at the distance and his speed should ensure that he gets a trouble-free trip—very likely on the front-end.
WEAKNESSES: As the heavy favorite, he’ll need to break cleanly and avoid being boxed in early. Finding his weaknesses is akin to looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack—he really doesn’t appear to have any in this context.
Guilt Trip 6-1 Joe Talamo
One of two Baffert entrants, he was a handy winner of the Grade II Strub Stakes Feb. 2 as the 2-1 favorite. Owned by Gary and Mary West, the 4-year-old son of Pulpit is on the improve and will likely sit mid-pack early with Joe Talamo up. Up and comer hopes to be running late.
STRENGTHS: Seems to be improving with each start for Baffert, whose first try with him netted a fifth-place finish in the opening day Malibu. Might have the right style (come from behind) if a horse or two decide to try and keep stablemate Game On Dude company early. Talamo knows him and he was a prompt winner as the 2-1 favorite in the Strub.
WEAKNESSES: Although he’s on the improve, it’s tough to make a case that he’s in the same class as the likes of Game On Dude or Ron the Greek at this stage. A maiden winner at Belmont Park on Sept. 26, he tries a mile and a quarter for the first time in this, his eighth career start.
Santa Anita will offer two other Grade I stakes on Saturday, the Frank E. Kilroe Mile (turf) and the Las Virgenes Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at one mile on the main track. First post time on Big ’Cap Day is at 12 noon.
For additional racing information or to make dining and seating reservations, visit www.santaanita.com or call (626) 574-RACE.
BIG 'CAP POST POSITION DRAW QUOTES
BOB BAFFERT, GAME ON DUDE: “I’ll put it this way, there’ll be no rating tactics with him. He needs to rock and roll. He likes to run like that. He’s not the kind of horse that can make the lead in 49 and change and then kick away. He’s better off with somebody going with him. You gotta let this horse run early and you can’t take a hold of him.
“I think he’s better than he was two years ago. His sheet numbers are better and he’s doing good.”
BOB BAFFERT, GUILT TRIP: “He’s doing great. He’s here at Santa Anita, so we’ll just walk him over and take a shot. He’ll be running late and I feel he’ll be very competitive.”
NICK CANANI, CALLED TO SERVE: “He’s doing great. He shipped in here really well. He’s been here since Feb. 5 and worked twice over the track. Gary’s worked him twice and has gotten to know him. You can’t go wrong with Gary. Mentally, physically, he’s doing really well.”
(Does getting your horse here early give you an edge)
“Yeah. Every horse is different, but with this particular horse, getting him here early and getting him acclimated - we’ve been walking him through the paddock every day. He’s a high-strung horse who has really kind of found his own.”
(Where do you want to be sitting early?)
“I’ll leave it up to Gary, but his last two races he’s been four or five back and he just starts plucking them off. I’d like to see him in the clear at some point down the backside. We drew the four hole, which is fine.”
(Can your horse improve enough to beat Game on Dude and Ron the Greek?)
“Yeah, I believe so. Any horse can be beat. He’s definitely still improving and had improved by leaps and bounds from race to race. I don’t see why this race will be any different.”
(You could make history if you win, following your dad’s win in 1989 and becoming the first father-son combo to train winners in the Big ‘Cap.)
“I was here that day. I didn’t bet. I wasn’t of age. I remember it was pouring down rain that day and it was a very off track.”
(What has it been like seeing your dad this week? You must value his input)
“I always value his input, and it’s always convenient and nice having him here. I was able to ship into his barn and know that the horse is OK and that he’s looking over him.”
RUDOLPH BRISSET (ASSISTANT TO BILL MOTT), RON THE GREEK: “He’s doing very well. We have been here (at Santa Anita) since Sunday. We did the exact same thing last year, shipping in the Sunday before. He is doing as good as he was last year, but this year it is a very different race. We have to stop talking about last year. Last year, the set up, it was unusual, they went (the first half-mile) in forty-four, so it is a really different race this year; it will be. This year, if they go forty-six and change, we’ll be lucky. If Game On Dude gets the lead, maybe forty-eight and change.”
(If both horses run their best races do you think you can beat Game On Dude?) “I think so.”
(The post position seems to set up nicely for a horse with this running type, do you agree?)
“Yeah, I think so, with his running type. Last time out (In the Sunshine Millions Classic) he was a little closer. So, the jock, Jose (Lezcano, jockey) will have to make a choice in the first quarter and see how far they go.”
(Can he lay a little closer and still be as effective as he is when he’s far back?)
“Yes, that’s what he did last time (In the Sunshine Millions Classic). Last time he was just five lengths off the pace and the pace was forty-six and change.”
JOHN HARRIS, Owner of Harris Farms, Co-Breeder and Owner, JOHN SCOTT: (Given your family’s long-time involvement in California racing, what would it mean for you to win the Big ‘Cap) “It’s California’s historic race, and we’re happy to be in it. It’s a difficult decision to figure out where to run your horse, and it would mean a lot to win it.”
(Do you think the 1 ¼ distance will be a problem?)
“I’m worried about the mile and a quarter on the dirt. He’s run well at Santa Anita on the dirt but not so impressively that this is an easy decision. And, Game On Dude won it (In 2011) in a real fast time. So, I’m a little concerned, quite frankly, it’s not an easy race. This horse is pretty consistent. He’s tough to type cast because he could run well going six furlongs on the dirt or he could run well going a mile and-a-half on the turf, and everything in between. Some horses are easier to manage because it’s obvious you gotta horse and a distance you want to point for. But John Scott, you’re not exactly sure where to put him.”
(This horse had a tendon problem that can often be a career ending injury for most)
“This is major success for us, as far as the rehabilitation program. We just gave him a lot of time. We originally stopped on him because he had a hind sesamoid that was fractured. We took care of that for six months and then brought him back. Then he had his tendon flare up and then we stopped on him some more and again, finally, he’s made it.”