Up the Backstretch: Giving proper deference to Game On Dude

The Sports NetworkApril 17, 2014 

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - I like reading, writing and watching Game On Dude race. He's a gamer, shows up for each race and doesn't give anything but his best.

Game On Dude, trained by Hall of Fame conditioner Bob Baffert, will probably be the best thoroughbred to never win the Eclipse Award as Horse of the Year. I hope that doesn't happen. Maybe this will be the year in which the 7-year- old gelding gets it done and is properly honored.

Saturday night at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, Game On Dude goes for his second straight win in the $1.5 million Charles Town Classic a 1 1/8- mile stakes for older horses that's conducted on the West Virginia track's six-furlong main track.

So far, Game On Dude is following the same schedule as last year which had him in great position to get an Eclipse Award until his second consecutive disappointing Breeders' Cup Classic.

In 2013, the gelding rolled through five wins to begin the year, including a half-length win over Clubhouse Ride at Charles Town. The year began with an impressive victory in the San Antonio at Santa Anita which had followed a win to conclude 2012 in the Native Diver coming off a seventh as the favorite in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

The speedy gelding, who has Hall of Fame baseball manager Joe Torre among his owners, already suffered a loss this year when he faded to fifth as the favorite in the San Antonio in February.

"He got tired (in the San Antonio), and I thought that race would set him up for the next one, so I honed in on him," Baffert said. "I used that as a steppingstone to the Big 'Cap (Santa Anita Handicap)."

Whatever Baffert did over the next four weeks worked. Game On Dude took the lead early in the 1 1/4-mile Big 'Cap and cruised to a comfortable 1 3/4- length victory, but not as the favorite.

"At the three-eighths pole when those horses came to him, for a split second I said, 'If they engulf him, we're watching Game on Dude's last race ever.' My wife, who loves him, put her head down and said, 'I can't watch.' I said, 'He's not done! He's kicking on!' and she picked her head back up," Baffert noted.

Since 2014 began differently than 2013 for Game On Dude, maybe this year will ended differently as well for the 7-year-old. The last two seasons he failed to garner an Eclipse Award based solely on losing the Breeders' Cup Classic. He's already lost this year and recovered nicely to capture a major handicap race.

He's never raced on turf and since Wise Dan appears just a grass horse now, I doubt the two will meet in 2014. Wise Dan, the two-time reigning Horse of the Year, has a $300,000 lead over Game On Dude in the lifetime earnings race. Winning the Charles Town Classic will mean a $1 million payday and put him over the $7 million career earnings mark.

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