Countdown to the Cup: The Game's Afoot

William Hill is dangling a carrot out there and is just daring American punters to go for it. And if you don’t like carrots, just think of Game On Dude’s 7-1 odds for the Breeders’ Cup Classic as chocolate cake or a slice of pizza.

It is understandable to look at this year’s Classic as a wide-open affair and to take into consideration that Game On Dude was beaten in his last start by a 3-year-old, albeit a synthetic freak on a synthetic surface. But it is important to remember that the 2012 Classic will be a shipper’s race, with the majority of the field travelling cross-country.

Any they’ll all be coming to Game On Dude’s backyard, where he boasts a four-for-four record, including two grade I scores and a grade II. He’s already won the Big Cap and the Hollywood Gold Cup at 1 1/4 miles and ran a winning race in last year’s Classic, only to be caught in the final strides by a horse he never saw way out in the middle of the track.

The Classic is the one major race that has eluded trainer Bob Baffert, who has had an emotionally and physically draining year – suffering a heart attack in Dubai, the death of his father, the Paynter ordeal, and arguably the most frustrating series of Triple Crown defeats in history. Add to that, losing Bodemeister to nerve damage in his shoulder, which resulted in his retirement, and losing his brightest 3-year-old star at the time, Fed Biz, who has just returned to the races. So, if there is a fitting conclusion to such a tumultuous year, it would be Baffert winning the Classic for his close friend and travelling companion Bernie Schiappa, who is part owner of Game On Dude.

We’re certainly not saying Game On Dude is a sure thing for the Classic, especially with several top-class horses likely who have a similar running style. But those are tactical speed horses, while Game On Dude is equally effective on the lead and is more than capable of beating anyone on the engine.

The feeling here is that 7-1 odds is more than generous for a horse who potentially is one victory (in the Awesome Again Stakes) away from being around a 2-1 favorite in the Classic and who has gone off at odds of 6-5, 2-5, 1-5, and even money in his previous starts this year (excluding the non-wagering Dubai World Cup). Yes, he was 14-1 in last year’s Classic, but that was at Churchill Downs and he was coming into the race having lost four of his five previous starts. He certainly looks like a stronger horse this year, and has a big home field advantage.

If you have any reservations about Game On Dude, then right below him at 8-1 is Ron the Greek, who won the Big Cap this year by 3 1/2 lengths and who is always first or second and coming fast at the end. If you’re looking for a horse who can handle any kind of track, Ron the Greek has won at Santa Anita, Aqueduct, Fair Grounds, Hoosier Park, and Delta Downs and has finished second at Saratoga, Gulfstream, and Oaklawn.

In his last 11 starts, the only time he went off at odds of higher than 9-2 was in the Stephen Foster when 1 1/8 miles was perceived as being too short for him, and he won that one over Wise Dan at 9-1. Bettors are not going to make that mistake again, especially at 1 1/4 miles and at Santa Anita. So, it would seem that 8-1 at this point is very generous as well.

If you do get down on him, don’t be discouraged if he should get beat in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, because with his running style and Belmont Park’s extreme speed bias nature, he could very well run a similar race as Blame did in 2010, which would set him up perfectly for the Classic.

What makes the odds on Game On Dude and Ron the Greek all the more attractive is that William Hills has Camelot at 8-1 and right now he has his sights set on sweeping the English Triple Crown in the marathon St. Leger. Also at 8-1 is Fort Larned, who has never won at 1 1/4 miles. Next at 10-1 is Dullahan and Wise Dan, who are being pointed for grass races. At 12-1 is Mucho Macho Man, who has never won a grade I. So, although we feel Mucho Macho Man has a ton of upside, in the grand scheme of things, Game On Dude and Ron the Greek look to be major bargains, considering all the tangibles, such as track, distance and trainer. If there was a future book exacta, this would be a smart bet, considering the price you’d get.

Of the real longhots, we’re paying close attention to Flat Out at 25-1. This colt had a banner year last year, winning the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Suburban, and placing in the Whitney and Woodward. Although he was fifth in the Classic, he was beaten only three lengths and didn’t have the best of trips. He’s rounding into form following a layoff, and should be peaking in the Classic rather than tailing off, as he appeared to be last year.

He’s been turned over to Bill Mott, who also has Ron the Greek and To Honor and Serve, and won last year’s Classic with longshot Drosselmeyer. In his last start, Flat Out finished a fast-closing third in the Whitney, a head behind Ron the Greek, and seems to be progressing the right way.

Baffert or Bust

Earlier, we alluded to Bob Baffert’s eventful year. What is amazing is that, despite all the strife, Baffert, with his 3-year-olds alone, has managed to win the Haskell Invitational with Paynter, Arkansas Derby with Bodemeister, Swaps Stakes with Blueskiesnrainbows, Rebel Stakes and Southwest Stakes with Secret Circle, San Vicente Stakes with Drill, and El Cajon Stakes with Fed Biz.

He also has finished second in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and San Felipe with Bodemeister, and the Belmont Stakes and Derby Trial with Paynter, and finished third in the Santa Anita Derby with Blueskiesnrainbows, Swaps Stakes and Jim Dandy Stakes with Liaison, and the Sunland Derby with Stirred Up.

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