Glib, flippant, aloof, unaffected. Those are the kinds of adjectives that permeate Bob Baffert’s public persona, but beneath that visible veneer lies a warm and beating--albeit resuscitated--heart and a caring soul.

That was evident in the winner’s circle Saturday after Game On Dude made history by becoming the first horse in 77 runnings of the storied Santa Anita Handicap to win the race three times, defeating heralded heavyweights Mucho Macho Man and Will Take Charge in the process.

Game On Dude paid an uncharacteristic $9.60 to win, having been favored in his last 14 U.S. starts, seven times at odds-on. One could almost detect a tear in Baffert’s eyes as he discussed the front-running victory, covered in 1:58.17 for a mile and a quarter, a stakes record, eclipsing Affirmed’s 1:58 3/5.

The message seemed clear: Don’t ‘diss’ my horse.

“To me, it’s an emotional win for the horse,” Baffert said of the 7-year-old gelding, who earned $450,000 to push his career bankroll to $6,163,893. “It kills me when they knock on him, but we came in quiet and that’s the way I like it. We came in under the radar and we were ready for them.”

Added Mike Smith, who piloted the son of Awesome Again to his 16th win from 31 career starts: “Bob’s proud of Game On Dude. He’s like family to him. When you knock him, you’re walking on the fightin’ side of Bob, I guess, like it says in the old country song that Merle Haggard used to sing.

“That’s kind of what happened. It kind of struck a nerve a little, and it was fabulous that the horse was able to show that he not only can compete, but beat those kinds of horses.

“He needed to run like that to beat them. When you’re dealing with that kind of talent, if you’re off your game just a half a step, these horses will beat each other. “So you’ve got to be really ‘on’ to compete with horses of that quality. Game On Dude was that and a little more yesterday.”

Trainer Kathy Ritvo reported that Mucho Macho Man came out of his fourth-place finish in the Big ’Cap “good” and will look at options this week for his next race. Mucho Macho Man ships back to Florida on Wednesday.


The pressure is off Art Sherman. By earning 50 qualifying points to the Kentucky Derby with California Chrome’s dazzling victory in Saturday’s San Felipe Stakes, the door to Louisville and the Run for the Roses on May 3 was opened wide.

All the 77-year-old trainer has to do now is keep the colt healthy and pick and choose the best way to get to Churchill Downs for the 140th running of the world’s most famous horse race.

“He came out of the race good; he looked good this morning,” Sherman said by phone early Sunday from his Los Alamitos headquarters. “I was here really early to make sure. You get a little nervous thinking about it.

“I’m not making any plans (for his next race), you know what I mean? I’m in the Derby now; I’ve got enough points. That took a lot of pressure off me. I’m just going to play it by ear. There is a chance we might go to the Santa Anita Derby (Grade I, $1 million, April 5).

“The horse has to let me know. He came out of the race good, he ate up last night. I was happy. He’s a cool horse. I just don’t want to do too much with him. We’re on the Derby trail and I know it’s tough. I’ve been there before as a kid with other people’s horses, but I know how grueling it is getting up to that point.”

As a teenage “kid,” Sherman went to work for Rex Ellsworth and accompanied the mighty California-bred Swaps to the Derby in 1955 and later to Chicago for his match race against the vaunted Nashua.

Now California Chrome will seek to become the first Cal-bred to win the Derby since Decidedly in 1962.

He’s Derby-bound,” the Brooklyn-born Sherman said after Saturday’s romp. “He looked like Swaps turning down the lane. I was amazed. You think a horse might win by a length or two. I’m not used to seeing him draw off by five or six.

“He’s peaking at the right time. The horse has been super, he’s putting on weight, he looked excellent in the paddock. I said, ‘My, he looks like a race horse today.’”

Sherman, a former jockey who enjoyed his best year as a trainer in 2007 when he won 207 races and gleaned $4,023,669 in purse money, isn’t about to be counting his roses before they bloom.

“I still have to go to Kentucky and try the big boys,” he said. “So far, all this has been great, not only for me and the horse, but for (owners/breeders) Steve (Coburn) and Perry (Martin). We’re just a mom and pop operation.”

If luck holds, the family will be growing.

Added Victor Espinoza, who rode California Chrome to a 7 ¼-length victory, the largest winning margin in the San Felipe at the distance of 1 1/16 miles since Premier Pegasus posted a 7 ¾-length romp under Alonso Quinonez for Myung Kwon Cho in 2005:

“Yesterday was his most impressive race since I’ve been riding him, but I believe he still has more left. I just took it easy with him yesterday. I think he’ll be even better at a mile and a quarter. We’ll find out how good he is as we go along, but he’s an amazing horse right now.”


With 7-year-old gelding Game On Dude and 3-year-old superstar California Chrome headlining a blockbuster 11-race program Saturday at Santa Anita, total Santa Anita Handicap Day handle was $22,589,082, a robust 23 percent increase over last year.

Saturday’s on-track handle of $3,716,513.50 was up 11 percent over last year’s $3,347,152. The on-track attendance of 27,121 represented a one percent increase over last year’s 26,901.

California Chrome annihilated six rivals in a gate to wire romp for the ages, winning the San Felipe Stakes by 7 ¼ lengths in 1:40.59—the second fastest clocking in the 77- year history of the prestigious prep to the $1 million Santa Anita Derby on April 5.

A California-bred colt by Lucky Pulpit owned by his breeders, Perry Martin and Steve Coburn, California Chrome earned 50 qualifying points to the Kentucky Derby, virtually assuring himself of a berth in the Run for the Roses May 3.

There was one winning ticket in the Pick Six Saturday, worth $234,434. It was purchased through TVG.

FINISH LINES: Two-time Eclipse Award winner Beholder, moving closer to her 4-year-old debut, worked four furlongs in company with Tiz Champ Sunday for Richard Mandella, getting a 48, breezing, while her stablemate was given the same time minus the “breezing.” Mandella said the daughter of Henny Hughes should be race-ready “by the middle of April.”. . . She’s a Tiger, 2-year-old filly champ of 2013, worked four furlongs for Jeff Bonde in 48.40, while multiple downhill stakes winner Pontchatrain went the same distance for Tom Proctor in 50 flat . . . Miss Serendipity, prepping for next Sunday’s Grade II Santa Ana Stakes for older fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles on turf, went five furlongs on a firm grass course with Brice Blanc aboard in 1:02.40 for Ron McAnally, while Emotional Kitten, also ticketed for the Santa Ana, went the same distance for Wesley Ward in 1:02.80 under Victor Espinoza . . . In a racing rarity, the seven runners in the San Felipe Stakes finished in order of their betting odds: California Chrome ($1.40-1) first, Midnight Hawk ($2.10-1) second, Kristo ($3.80-1) third, Schoolofhardrocks ($4.50-1) fourth, Unstoppable Colby ($35.40-1) fifth, Recanted ($47.20-1) sixth and Sawyer’s Hill ($47.50-1) seventh . . . Neil Drysdale said the Grade I Shoemaker Mile at Santa Anita on June 14 is a “possibility” for Frank E. Kilroe Mile winner Winning Prize, whose winning time of 1:32.44 was the second-fastest ever only to the 1:31.89 by Atticus in 1997 . . . With the $30,000 Clubhouse Ride earned for finishing third in Saturday’s San Carlos Stakes, the 6-year-old Candy Ride horse surpassed $1 million in earnings at $1,029,522 . . . Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner and Santa Anita Oaks contender Ria Antonia, a newcomer to the Bob Baffert barn, worked four furlongs at Santa Anita Saturday in company with Lady Regina. They were clocked in 47 flat and 47.20, respectively . . . Egg Drop, winner of the Grade I Matriarch and second in the Grade II Buena Vista Stakes on Feb. 17, worked five furlongs Saturday for Mike Mitchell in 1:00.40 . . . Joe Carl, entered for $16,000 in today’s fifth race, has been claimed from nine of his last 12 starts, three times by Bob Hess Jr. . . . On Saturday, March 22, Santa Anita presents a Winner’s Circle BBQ Championship in the infield. Sanctioned by the Kansas City BBQ Society, it will feature delicious samplings from grilling greats. Fans can receive a 50 percent discount off the Family BBQ 4-Pack of the 2-Pack with the promo code SMOKEY . . . Octavio Vergara is a proud papa, nearly 2,700 miles away ardently following the career of his son, 22-year-old apprentice Octavio Vergara Jr., currently plying his trade at Laurel Race Course in Maryland. The senior Vergara, a former jockey with a 35-year career who now works for trainer Barry Abrams, hopes one day to have his son riding in Southern California, “when he gains the necessary experience.” The young Vergara, who has 16 lifetime wins, said he has eight more months riding with the ‘bug,’ speaking of the weight allowance that benefits apprentice riders . . . Jockey Maichol Severino, a 22-year-old native of the Dominican Republic who tacks 109 pounds, is expected to make his Santa Anita debut shortly. Severino has been riding four years and won more than 200 races.