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.


Leave a Comment:

Carlos in Cali


How about To Honor And Serve; his odds are probably comparable to MMM's @ 12-1?..

10 Sep 2012 2:05 PM
lunar spook

CARLOS IN CALI- I agree with you i have been following to honor and serve closely and like his chances ,he seems to be finding his stride at the right time , im not worried about RON THE GEEK , that horse is soooooo gonna get embarrassed in the B.C.

10 Sep 2012 4:15 PM
lunar spook

I have no confidence in RON THE GEEK ,and judging by the above quote "DONT GET DISCOURAGED IF HE LOSES THE GOLD CUP" . . . sounds like steve dosent either

10 Sep 2012 4:31 PM


Nice column.

If the William Hill odds were available in America, I would unload today on To Honor and Serve at 16-1, regardless of the risk that he might not run in the Classic.

10 Sep 2012 4:56 PM
Brian Russell

Since when did Belmont Park have "an extreme speed bias nature"?  Also, although I agree Game On Dude and Ron The Greek are overlays at those prices, you left out the "minor" detail that making the bet from the US with William Hill is against federal law.  The only way to get a bet down is to go there (dramatically reducing your value) or having a friend you trust in a foreign country get the bet down for you.

10 Sep 2012 5:02 PM

OK I would guess that William Hill is an English chap from across the pond who has this future book.I have three AW accounts in the US and I havent heard of him.If this the case and I could bet into these pools I would prefer to bet into the future exacta pools like I do here for the Kentucky Derby future bets.

10 Sep 2012 6:11 PM

Thanx for the info here is the list copied from the website

Game On Dude




Fort Larned


Ron The Greek




Wise Dan


Mucho Macho Man




Imperial Monarch


To Honor And Serve




Richards Kid


Bourbon Courage


Flat Out


Golden Ticket


Nates Mineshaft


1/5 Odds Place 1,2,3

10 Sep 2012 6:22 PM
The Deacon

I wonder if Acclamation or Animal Kingdom will run in the Classic.

Will the connections take a shot and put Point of Entry in a dirt race. Is Rail Trip rounding form, he ran a respectable 4th in the Pacific Classic.

You make some greats points here Steve, should be a dandy weekend.

Is Stay Thirsty back in training, I wonder will he be in that race as well.

11 Sep 2012 3:02 AM

"The game is afoot."  

I know I've heard that before and heard it often.

Steve, by chance are you a fan of Survivor?

"The game is afoot" was uttered in several of last season's Survivor One World Tribal Councils by Greg "Tarzan" Smith.

If he's pointed that way, my money is on To Honor and Serve.

11 Sep 2012 4:08 AM
Steve Haskin

The game's afoot is a term used by Sherlock Holmes.

Stay Thirsty ran 5th in the Woodward Stakes two weeks ago. Point of Entry will definitely stay on the grass.

11 Sep 2012 7:46 AM
Pedigree Ann

"The game is afoot", i.e. the hunted animal has left its den and can be tracked, was a favorite phrase of fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, as Steve noted. It has been quoted in many contexts for the last 100+ years, not always appropriately.

In all the years that the Classic has been run, only Ghostzapper managed to win it without having run and run half-way decently in a stakes at 10f. With its dearth of 10f races for older horses, the East Coast has created a major disadvantage for horses trained there.

And, yes, Brian, Belmont has turned into a front-runner's paradise, especially when it is to any degree wet. It is not that a deep closer can't win there; it is that he faces more obstacles than he might elsewhere.

11 Sep 2012 9:58 AM
Aaron McC

Adapted for contemporary English in the recent Masterpiece modern adaptations of Sherlock Holmes, we have Sherlock exclaiming "The game is on!" and I think we might add "dude" for us Americans.

With all the speed that seems to be converging in a mile and a quarter race at Santa Anita, it makes sense to take the speed we know can stay (Game on Dude) and could potentially run all others into the ground and add a strong closer thats proven at the distance and the track, Ron the Greek.  

I stand in agreement with you Steve -- at the moment -- and that would be my exacta if the race were tomorrow.

I am awaiting further evidence, will keep my eyes on Mucho Macho Man and maybe some others.

In any case, keep those "little grey cells" working.

With thanks,

11 Sep 2012 11:54 AM
lunar spook

I always look forward to PEDIGREE ANNS comments , they are well thought out intelligent remarks , at first i thought she was trying to make an impression and was being condesending , now i realize she is just very bright ! and no, im not trying to be sarcastic here , she seems to be a very well rounded unique indivual !

11 Sep 2012 4:22 PM

Could not agree more with the jockey switch on G.O.D. Thought Sutherland gave him a "ho-hum" ride in the Pacific Classic going up on some cheap speed that ran 46 for the half.  Way premature particularly with a synthetic type closer with a weight break in the field.  G.O.D. hates Del Mar and wants a jockey that will not drop the rein in mid-stretch.  G.O.D. has spoken.  Could get interesting if he by passes up the former Goodwood and goes to the BC gate on works alone.  To me he still seems like one of the few capable or running a sub 2:00 race particularly if the track plays like it did last fall.  We will know in a few weeks.  

11 Sep 2012 5:18 PM

As always, clever title Steve!  One has to work for Scotland Yard to figure out this BC Classic outcome.  Interesting article.

I'm not big on 11th hour jockey changes, but if Baffert thinks Bejarano can maneuver the Dude better in the Classic, ok.  Steve, so much for your great idea of promoting Chantal. Chantal knows the horse, Dude is used to her, there is no guarantee the combo of Bejarano and G.O.D. is going to get the win.  Just because Bejarano, who I like as well, is their no. 1 rider doesn't necessarily give G.O.D. a better chance for a Classic win.  Chantal has ridden G.O.D. what 10 times or so, so there is a bond developped between them.  I don't know, if you already have a winning combination that is working why mess with it?  I think they should have promoted Chantal the way Steve said and Baffert should have kept her on Dude.  It all remains to be seen.  I guess the Classic has eluded Baffert so much and his top guns of the 3 yr. olds are gone, so he's going all out on the Classic.  Can't say I blame him.  I guess Bejarano and Dude better start bonding.  Sherlock would tell us that the "clue" is not necessarily in the jockey.

I guess I have to rethink Belmont.  I have never thought of it as being speed favoring or biased to front runners.  Alex came from way off the pace, and Hard Spun, a front runner, was well behind Rags and Curlin.  I always figured that with the large sweeping oval turns that your goose was cooked if you took off like a bat out of hell by the time you reached the backstretch. Maybe the dynamics of Belmont are changing, it helped Paynter this year who was second.  

Speaking of Paynter, encouraging news yesterday from the Zayats.  Our prayers are working!  PowerUpPaynter!

11 Sep 2012 6:15 PM

Now I have the mental image of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson sitting down with a huge magnifying glass trying to decipher this year's BC Classic!  I love watching the old movies with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce (I think was the actor who played Watson).  Steve and Lenny could do a Holmes/Watson spoof in their next segment!

11 Sep 2012 6:23 PM
Dr Drunkinbum

Time for the TV show "Jockeys" to come back, and film  Chantal and Jill Baffert drinking martinis and white wine at lunch after shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue, and talking about Chantal getting taken off of Game On Dude. " I tried Chantal, believe me I did."  Chantal-"Well, you obviously didn't try hard enough."  Jill-"I did. I used to make him his favorite steak dinner to keep you on but he's not eating steak anymore. Salad just doesn't have the same persuasive power." Chantal to the waiter-"I'll have another Martini, make it a double. Damn. I was going to win The Classic, and I could have won the Derby with Mine That Bird. Damn."

11 Sep 2012 7:42 PM
steve from st louis

After watching the Pacific Classic with eyeballs forced to stay open with toothpicks, I think Camelot could win the 14 furlong St. Leger on dead turf, swim across the Big Pond, hitch his way across the US on a flat-bed truck and arive in Pasadena hours before the Classic and still hit the board if not win. If Dullahan can show up those handicap horses, so can the plastic "Trigger" that sits in my little girl's room with Ron the Greek second and Royal Delta third. And remember, being from St. Louis, I don't have a coast in this fight.

11 Sep 2012 9:42 PM
Steve Haskin

Very clever, Dr. D., but I think that conversation actually happened.

11 Sep 2012 11:20 PM
Paula Higgins

ITA with either GOD or RTG as first and second. I think GOD has the best chance with the jockey change.

11 Sep 2012 11:48 PM
Greg R

If Camelot arrives in Pasadena for the Classic, he will miss it entirely, because Santa Anita is not in Pasadena.  It is in Arcadia, which is adjacent to Pasadena.  Camelot is a terrific  horse, though.

For "The Deacon" :  It is hard to believe that Animal Kingdom could be ready for the Breeder's Cup, considering he is coming off his second career-threatening injury and they ought to proceed gingerly with him by giving him several easier races first, not throwing him into the most strenuous race in the hemisphere.  I thought he was the most talented horse we'ver seen in a number of years.  I strongly believe a trip to Dubai to run on Tapeta would be a colossal waste of what is left of his racing potential.  Please, Mr. Irwin, keep him here in 2013 for a normal, American campaign.  He will reward you.

Doesn't William Hill's 12/1 seem high for Mucho Macho Man?

11 Sep 2012 11:57 PM
steve from st louis

Of course you're right, Greg, I was one shopping center off. Adding to my hyperbole, let Camelot start from Pasadena and he would catch the field at the 3/16ths pole. Race on.

12 Sep 2012 8:51 AM
Linda in Texas

Seconding Greg R. with his note to Mr. Irwin. I feel Animal Kingdom's issues have already sent 2 extreme messages. I don't want the third to be life ending.

I know it was a tough decision to take Chantal away from riding Game On Dude but Baffert knows best. Game on Dude is 'another' one of my favorites. This is his third year of racing if i can add. He is 5.

And my favorite 'game on photo'

of Game on Dude was his attire in the Dubai race. He looked to me like a warrior who was ready for battle. I just like him, a lot, a whole lot.

Fight on Paynter. Need to check today's twitter on him. It has been an amazing journey with him and i hope to see him in parading to post when he is healthy once again.

Thanks Steve.

12 Sep 2012 10:23 AM
lunar spook

SOMEONE PLEASE ENLIGHTEN ME , what bc race would camelot run in ? i keep hearing classic but thought he was a turf horse ???

12 Sep 2012 11:47 AM
an ole railbird

you cant blame bullet bob for replaceing chantal with bajarano.

not after the ride she put(or didnt put), on g.o.d. last out.

the only difference between her ride & a trained monkeys ride, was , a trained monkey wouldnt have been thinking " what will i say on face book".

bajarano has the hot hand right now& bullett bob has a lot of faith in him.

i personally am lookin forward to the classic. it will be a good gambleing race.

 bob baffert for president. he could win that race too.

  i remain "an ole railbird"

12 Sep 2012 1:00 PM
an ole railbird

 my condolences to the baffert family, on the lose of mr bill baffert. he was one of the last of the breed, of his era. his hand shake was better than a contract. and he was a excellent judge of horse flesh.

the men of those times (like him) are truly missed, by those of us who had dealings with them.

 rest in peace mr. bill baffert.

 I remain, "an ole railbird".

12 Sep 2012 1:10 PM

Mr Haskin has this delusion that the Breeder's Cup is some sort of World Championship. It isn't.

12 Sep 2012 2:19 PM
Age of Reason

Billpyers has this delusion that his comments are in some way relevant. They aren't.

12 Sep 2012 4:56 PM

Greg R,

I totally agree with you.  It is hard to believe Animal Kingdom could be ready to compete at a BC Classic level.  It's scary and I don't want him in Dubai for sure.  Yes, please Mr. Irwin keep him racing here and don't put him through all that shipping trauma.  I can't choose between Animal Kingdom and G.O.D. if they face each other in the Classic.  I love Animal Kingdom but G.O.D. is so deserving of a Classic win too.  

Ole Railbird,

Agreed.  I don't blame Baffert either for the jockey change but it's iffy.  Nice tribute from you to Baffert's father.  And I think you are right, Baffert is personable, can manage a huge budget, is successful and not a bad presidential candidate at that.

My condolences to his family as well on the loss of his father.  

12 Sep 2012 6:25 PM

Linda in Texas,

No wonder we like Game On Dude so much, he too, like Paynter, is by Awesome Again.  I just realized by perusing pedigrees lately they are by the same sire.  If Paynter wins this fight and G.O.D. wins the Classic, Awesome Again should be one hot sire.

Such great news about Paynter.  He's grazing outside, getting some play time, and walking comfortably with a promising future of maybe racing again.  What an unbelievably strong colt this is.  And how incredible is the power of prayer!  PowerUpPaynter!

12 Sep 2012 6:33 PM
Linda in Texas

billpyers - and Mr. Haskin has a lot of company.  

It is as much a World Championship as any race run on any track that draws world renowned horses.

Maybe i mis read the intent of your post. I am hoping so.

12 Sep 2012 6:39 PM
Steve Haskin

Linda and Age of Reason, Mr. Pyers, who took his name after a former jockey who rode Dahlia numerous times, is a Brit with a chip on his shoulder. He can say whatever he likes as long as its within the boundaries of good taste. But I wouldnt take comments like that too seriously.

12 Sep 2012 8:54 PM
Paula Higgins

Very sorry to hear about Bob Baffert's father. Nice comments on Bob's father, an ole railbird. I hope Bob Baffert reads them. He has had  a great year on the track, but a very tough year personally.

Yes, Paynter is doing very well. I will say it again, his vet. and the Zayats should get some kind of an recognition at the Eclipse Awards. They were superhuman in their efforts to save him.

Steve, I don't take Mr. Pyers seriously. I can remember when everyone was saying the British horses were "the class of the field" when they ran against Zenyatta. Uh huh.

12 Sep 2012 11:03 PM
Greg R

The Breeder's Cup is the closest thing we have to a world championship, even if that can never be official.  What else comes close?  Dubai World Cup day was on its way, but they derailed themselves by switching to Tapeta at Meydan.  Hardly any top U.S. handicap types will go there from now on.  Cigar wouldn't have, Pleasantly Perfect, Roses in May, etc.  Now they are an Old World festival, almost exclusively......which is fine if that's all they want.

13 Sep 2012 12:04 AM
Age of Reason

I wholeheartedly second you on both points, Paula. My thoughts and prayers are with the Baffert family, and regardless of whether or not one agrees with any number of Baffert's practices he remains among the most likable personalities in all of sport. The thought has occurred to me more than once that one Pyers might perhaps be the internet incarnation of John McCririck--the blowhard British buffoon whose last American appearance (as I recall) was to jump in front of ESPN's cameras shortly before BC Classic post time and declare that betting on Zenyatta was "throwing your money away". Might that serve as a reminder to our dear friends overseas that America can produce superstars with the best of 'em...

13 Sep 2012 9:12 AM
lunar spook

We will never have a true world champion , too many factors , the euro horses run better on turf , the us horses wont make the trip to ireland or england , left handed vs. right handed tracks , distances , surfaces , money issues , well you get the picture ! But if you were to twist my arm id say all things being equal , frankel and camelot are the cream of the crop !

13 Sep 2012 11:14 AM

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