Haskin's Classic Report: And They're Off

So, all the post positions are in, all the works are done, and all the Classic horses are here. Now, good luck trying to figure out how the race is going to be run and who is going to win.

Is Game On Dude going to outrun everyone or will he have to relinquish the early lead to Fort Larned or Moreno or perhaps someone else? Can we forget Palace Malice’s surprise suicide dash in the Kentucky Derby?

The post position could not have worked out better for Game On Dude, who looked sensational working five furlongs in :59 on Monday, especially galloping out past the wire. Not only did he draw post 9, outside all the speed, he has three closers outside him in Will Take Charge, Ron the Greek, and Flat Out, so there will be no early pace pressure from his outside. That will put Mike Smith in complete control of the situation, as he’ll be able to see how the speed sets up inside him.

Palace Malice is directly to his inside, with Fort Larned right inside him. Moreno is farthest away in post 4, and he no doubt will go right the lead and see if Game On Dude tries to outrun him and Fort Larned or stalk both of them from the outside. Of these, Palace Malice is the one who should be taken back and try to settle off the pace. The Kentucky Derby was a freak race for him, and it is more likely you’ll see him laying around fourth or fifth.

The next question is whether Paynter will show speed from post 3 or take back as he did in the Awesome Again.

Mucho Macho Man is another enigma. The towering 17-hand horse has excellent tactical speed, as he demonstrated in last year’s Classic. Breaking from post 6, he most likely will be running fourth, fifth, or sixth, but within a couple of lengths of the leaders, making for a contentious pace.

As for the closers, Bill Mott’s pair will take back from the two outside posts, especially Ron the Greek. Flat Out, who normally likes to keep in touch with the leaders, likely will be a bit farther back than usual. The outside posts should help them stay out of traffic, which can be expected on the inside with so many tactical speed horses causing a log jam.

Will Take Charge also is in a good spot. Another giant of a horse, he definitely wants to be on the outside and should be in good shape breaking from post 10.

We really don’t know much about Declaration of War, but the Irish colt is a relentless closer, who doesn’t really have a quick turn of foot. The big question with him is if he’ll have enough time to close ground down the short Santa Anita stretch. His last victory came at York, which has one of longest stretches in England. However, he has won all three of his starts over a synthetic surface over much tighter tracks. If he is within striking range turning for home, he could be very dangerous.

Last Gunfighter likely will take back and try to pick up the pieces late if there is a pace collapse. They’ll be happy to get a piece of it, and sometimes that kind of strategy pays off in a race with so much early speed.

Even though Planteur went to the front in the Prix Dollar and set a ridiculous pace, he is more of a late runner, as he showed in his two third-place finishes in the Dubai World Cup over the Tapeta surface. Breaking from post 2, the temptation might be there to show speed, but he more likely will take back and save ground.

If the track is playing fair, unlike last year’s speed biased surface, we should see one heckuva cavalry charge down the stretch. Then again, if Game On Dude duplicates his efforts in the Santa Anita Handicap and Pacific Classic, this race might not be as competitive as one would think. But he’ll be facing far better horses than he beat all year.

So good luck trying to figure this one out and may the best horse win.

Game On Dude is the center of attraction each morning as he mingles with the folks before heading to the track.

Game On Dude is all business once he hits the track.

Game On Dude

A frisky Will Take Charge and his twin pony.

Mucho Macho Man has been thriving at Santa Anita.

Mucho Macho Man turns in another strong gallop.

Flat Out returning from his first gallop over the track.

Trainer Eric Guillot turns fan and photographs Moreno with his cell phone camera.

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