IT’S GAME ON NOT GAME OVER FOR THE DUDE
Every professional athlete sees the dawning of the day when they have to say when. Battling the opposition is one thing, fighting father time is something altogether different. For one veteran California Thoroughbred athlete, the fight will continue as the sun has not set on his day just yet.
Game On Dude has been a fabulous, four-footed flash across the Golden State race tracks since January of 2011 when he won an allowance race at Santa Anita. Since then, the now seven-year old son of Awesome Again has trotted to the winner’s circle 11 times on the left coast and can legitimately lay claim as the all-time best in the West. Despite being the only horse to win three Santa Anita Handicaps, two Hollywood Gold Cups, and the Pacific Classic, this rather gifted gelding does not always get his just due. Now he welcomes another opportunity for accolades in the August 24 Pacific Classic.
“I think he gets very little respect,” says trainer Bob Baffert. “He has won over $6 million at the racetrack but people just don’t give him the credit he deserves. We know he didn’t bring his A game a couple of times in the Breeders’ Cup Classic as the favorite, but that shouldn’t take away from all the other big races he has won.”
Indeed the 2012 and 2013 Breeders’ Cup Classics run at Santa Anita were not the best efforts of Game On Dude. Questions were raised each time after his disappointing runs, but the Dude answered with big follow-ups. None was bigger than his huge win in the 2014 Santa Anita Handicap.
Written off as washed up and too old to compete, the Dude got his game on and led gate to wire in a scintillating performance as he became the first three-time winner in the illustrious history of the Big Cap. In defeating the first and second place finishers from the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic (Mucho Macho Man, Will Take Charge) rather handily, Game On Dude proved to be anything but finished. The current king of California proved he still wears the crown, but there were a few anxious moments during his dynamic drive.
“He seems to be all or nothing every time he goes out now,” says Baffert. “When he hit the 3/8 pole in the Big Cap we were all worried because he was on the lead, but they were going so fast. My wife covered her eyes and I even had my doubts, but then he just turned it on and left the others behind in a truly fantastic performance.”
Facts are facts and Game On Dude is nearing the end of a fabulous career. Even though his trainer has won over 2,000 races and conditioned 3 Kentucky Derby champions, 5 Preakness winners, and a Belmont champ, the Dude will always be one of those special horses for him. And Bob Baffert is not ready to turn his Dude out just yet.
“I think he’s got a lot left,” says Baffert. “He is such a nice horse he is like a pet to us. We would never run him if we thought he couldn’t compete and was in any danger of injury. He has been training great and we think he is sitting on a big race. The one thing I think has made him such a fun horse is he is a gelding. That means there is no pressure to win because of breeding, you just go out and run because you love to compete.”
Game On Dude has brought a lot of happiness to many other people besides his training family. Fans far and wide have rejoiced as their hero ruled while the competition drooled. One of the Dude’s biggest fans has been co-owner Bernie Schiappa.
“Game On Dude has been nothing but fun for us as fans of the sport,” says Schiappa. “He is a part of the family. When we go watch him race it is like going to one of your son’s ball games. I know I am more nervous than he is just like it is for a Dad at a Little League game. He has taken us on a great journey and I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Despite a less than spectacular fourth place finish in the Gold Cup on June 28, Schiappa is still a believer in his boy. Fully confident in his team, Bernie is looking forward to seeing his four-legged son step up again.
“Every time he goes in the gate he still has a chance to win,” says Schiappa. “Bob Baffert has done a tremendous job with him over the years and we know he is going to have him ready for this one. Bob will get him into the gates and the Dude will do the rest.”
For whatever it’s worth, Game On Dude will enter the 2014 Pacific Classic at Del Mar as the defending champ after dominating the race in 2013 and winning by 8 ½ widening lengths. Repeating that type of performance will be tough, but folks have doubted this Dude before…and then he got his Game On.