By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman")
While last weekend’s racing action was slow, with only a handful of graded stakes races being run across the country, this weekend promises to be much, much more exciting. All told, there are twelve graded stakes races scheduled to be run on Saturday alone, including a trio of grade I events. Furthermore, some of the biggest names in American horse racing will be in action, including Game On Dude and Untapable. It’s a day of racing you won’t want to miss, so let’s start handicapping!
Gold Cup at Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I)
Before handicapping this race, allow me to offer a disclaimer that Game On Dude is one of my favorite horses, and I will be cheering hard for him on Saturday. It boggles the mind to think that this is the same horse that finished fourth in the 2010 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) as a three-year-old, gamely battling his way down the homestretch against Drosselmeyer, Fly Down, and First Dude. If you had told me then that Game On Dude would become a nine-time grade I winner—and still be competing at the top level of the sport in 2014—I would never have believed you. Yet here we are, and Game On Dude is ready to roll against six rivals in the Gold Cup, a race he will be attempting to win for the third consecutive year.
But with all of that said, Game On Dude is getting up there in years, and while his 2014 season has already featured one of his most spectacular victories ever—a dominant win over Will Take Charge and Mucho Macho Man in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I)—he has also lost two of his three starts this year, and may be starting to show signs of his increasing age. As a result, it wouldn’t surprise me if his best performances start to come farther and farther apart.
So with that in mind, I’m going to reluctantly pick against him on Saturday. The presence of the speedy front-runner Fury Kapcori should keep Game On Dude honest on the lead, and potentially set up a late run from Clubhouse Ride. The six-year-old son of Candy Ride has run against Game On Dude on five occasions, losing each time, but enters this year’s Gold Cup off of a respectable half-length victory in the Californian Stakes (gr. II) here at Santa Anita and seems to be rounding into peak form. Now, unless Clubhouse Ride runs the race of his life on Saturday, it would require a sub-par performance by Game On Dude to allow Clubhouse Ride to win. But since we’re handicapping this race from the perspective that Game On Dude might be vulnerable, Clubhouse Ride may very well be capable of getting the job done.
Another logical contender is Imperative, who has already beaten Game On Dude twice this year. But on each occasion, Game On Dude had a legitimate excuse—last time out, in the Charles Town Classic (gr. III), Game On Dude was running over a bullring racetrack that he has never particularly cared for, and in the San Antonio Stakes (gr. II), Game On Dude was making his first start of the season, wasn’t fully cranked up, and got involved in a speed duel. While I certainly respect the chances of Imperative, I believe Clubhouse Ride has a better chance at beating ‘Dude today, and he should offer better value as well.
So in essence, my official selection to win is Clubhouse Ride, although this is one race where I would be happy to be wrong in my handicapping.
Mother Goose Stakes (gr. I)
Let’s face it—Untapable is going to be the heaviest favorite for the Mother Goose since Rachel Alexandra in 2009, and for Untapable to lose this race would require an upset of monumental magnitude. On paper, her primary opposition would probably be Stopchargingmaria, but the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (gr. II) winner may scratch and await the Coaching Club American Oaks. That would leave just four horses to face Untapable, the best of which may be Princess Violet, a lightly-raced New York- bred filly riding a two-race winning streak. However, as impressive as she has been thus far, this will be her first start beyond 6-1/2 furlongs, and beating Untapable while stretching out a quarter-mile in distance could prove very, very challenging.
So for the purpose of trying to find some sort of value for the exotics—which isn’t an easy task!—I’ll be looking toward House Rules, runner-up in the Gulfstream Oaks (gr. II) and Davona Dale Stakes (gr. II) during the winter at Gulfstream Park. She has only run once since March, finishing sixth in the Acorn Stakes (gr. I) three weeks ago, but should be sharper with a recent race under her belt and seems a logical candidate to round out the exacta.
So here’s my straight trifecta for the Mother Goose, assuming that Stopchargingmaria does indeed scratch: 1, Untapable; 2, House Rules; 3, Princess Violet. Hey, if it works, maybe we can get a 10-1 return! :)
Who do you like this weekend?