Game on Dude became the first three-time champion of the Santa Anita Handicap (G1) at Santa Anita on March 8 with a sparkling win over Will Take Charge.
Game On Dude snapped a three-race skid with his victory against seven rivals, including Mucho Macho Man and Will Take Charge, the one-two finishers over the
track in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).
“My wife, Jill, is pretty tough on me,” Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said. “She said, `Don’t you run that horse if you don’t think he can win.’”
Game On Dude didn’t disappoint Baffert or the 7-year-old gelding’s legion of fans at his home track. He ran 1¼ miles in 1:58.17 under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith and paid $9.60, $3.60 and $3.60 as the 7-2 third choice in the wagering. The final clocking shaded Affirmed’s 1979 Big ’Cap time of 1:58.60.
“There’s a lot of people who came to put their $2 on Game On Dude,” said Baffert, who earned his fifth Big `Cap victory. Game On Dude also won the race last year and in 2011.
Will Take Charge, trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, returned $3 and $2.60 as the 3-2 second choice. Blingo was another eight lengths back in third and paid $5.60 to show. Last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Mucho Macho Man faded to fourth as the 6-5 favorite.
Game On Dude angled in after breaking from the No. 7 post and flashed his customary early zip. He responded gamely with plenty left in reserve when challenged into the second turn.
“I was a little worried when those horses came to him,” Baffert said. “Will Take Charge made a really bold move.
“I was just in awe of the horse,” Baffert added. “When he gets in that groove, no one can beat him. This horse has been so special. He’s a pet around the barn.”
Smith pumped his left arm as he arrived back in front of the stands to rousing cheers.
“I knew he was going to run today,” Smith said. “He was very alert.”
Game On Dude’s owners include Major League Baseball executive Joe Torre, who was in Florida on Saturday, and Baffert’s close friend, Bernie Schiappa.
The victory, worth $450,000, pushed Game On Dude’s career earnings to $6,163,893, with 16 wins in 31 starts.