Dude the Redeemer - By Eric Mitchell

God love the seasoned warriors; the ones who rise up and reclaim glory in stunning fashion when everyone else has begun writing them off.

During the Sochi Winter Olympics, Austrian skier Mario Matt, two months shy of his 35th birthday, handled a tricky slalom course on challenging soft snow to become the oldest Alpine gold medalist in Olympics history. The course was so tough—termed brutal by some—that five of the eight top skiers from the first of two rounds failed to finish the course.

Matt’s experience, talent, and will to win allowed him to shine against some of the world’s most talented and much younger skiers.

“He’s a tremendous competitor, a game-day guy,” said U.S. men’s head coach Sasha Rearick.

Game On Dude gave racing the same type of performance March 8 in one of the most exciting Santa Anita Handicaps (gr. I) seen in many years.  

Santa Anita Park is home base for the 7-year-old son of Awesome Again, but the Southern California track has been the site of as much heartbreak as triumph for him. Just four months ago Game On Dude was favored to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) after a sterling run of five consecutive graded stakes victories, including a 73⁄4-length romp in last year’s Big ’Cap. The gelding, however, finished ninth in the Classic, 11 lengths behind winner Mucho Macho Man and nosed-out second Will Take Charge. Game On Dude had been the favorite in the 2012 Classic, also at Santa Anita, and finished 15 lengths back in seventh.

The Dude ended last year with a good second to Will Take Charge in the Clark Handicap (gr. I), so a strong start this year would have restored the faith of many. But that didn’t happen. Instead, Game On Dude finished fifth in the grade II San Antonio Stakes against much softer competition than he would face in the Big ’Cap. The only other graded stakes winners in the field were Blueskiesnrainbows, who had just won the grade II San Pasqual Stakes, and Willyconker, who had won the grade I Frank E. Kilroe Mile Stakes in 2012 but had not won or placed in a stakes all last year.

So the speculation began. Had the Dude lost his edge?

Trainer Bob Baffert took the heat for the San Antonio loss, saying he didn’t have Game On Dude prepared. Then he stewed over the naysayers.
“Bob’s proud of Game On Dude,” said jockey Mike Smith. “He’s like family to him. When you knock him, you’re walking on the fightin’ side of Bob, I guess, like it says in the old country song that Merle Haggard used to sing.”

The Big ’Cap wound up being the perfect stage for redemption: a rematch with Mucho Macho Man and Will Take Charge at Santa Anita along with the top three finishers from the San Antonio—Blingo, Imperative, and American Blend—and grade II winner Hear the Ghost from the always dangerous barn of Jerry Hollendorfer. The doubt hanging over Game On Dude made him the third choice in the field; the first time he had not been the post time favorite in 15 starts.

The Dude was ready, however. Smith took him right to the front and let him roll through sharp fractions of :22.91, :45.39, and 1:09.39, a brisker pace than what unfolded had when Game On Dude ran head-to-head with Blueskiesnrainbows in the San Antonio. Heading into the second turn, the fans got the showdown they’d been hoping for with Mucho Macho Man at Game On Dude’s right shoulder and Will Take Charge just outside of Mucho Macho Man.

“The stars are all aligned,” said track announcer Trevor Denman.

This time the Dude’s talent and will to win were unassailable. Mucho Macho Man faded and Will Take Charge was held at bay by 13⁄4 lengths. The Dude trifecta was priceless: He made history by winning his third Santa Anita Handicap, he broke the stakes record with his final time of 1:58.17, and he struck dumb his critics.

“It’s an emotional win,” Baffert said afterward. “It kills me when they knock on him, but we came in quiet and that’s the way I like it. We came in under the radar, and we were ready for them.”

The Big ’Cap was an important race for the sport as well. A compelling handicap division allows fans to make a connection with top horses and gives a chance for rivalries to develop. Keep putting such compelling contests on TV and perhaps Thoroughbred racing could start to savor some redemption of its own.

 

25 Comments

Leave a Comment:

opsherr

So well said! It was a horserace, wasn't it> So many personalities and the horses! Thank you Mr. Mitchell for your eloquence.

11 Mar 2014 6:24 PM
sysonby

Yes, it was a brisker pace than the San Antonio, but it was without pressure....It's not speed that kills but pressure...Which is why he had something left.Also, Dude got more good out of the San A than MMM got from his workout in the Fla Million

11 Mar 2014 7:06 PM
maryg

Not really impressed.Small field with only 2 contenders and MMM didn`t run his race. Dude got an easy lead and Santa Anita made sure to keep Baffert happy by having track play to front runners.If Dude had won last three Breeders classic I would say he is a great horse but not yet.

11 Mar 2014 8:53 PM
Coldfacts

Street Cry entered the 2002 renewal of the Whitney Handicap as the short price favorite. He was expected to be an easy winner based on his impressive victories in the G1, Dubai World Cup and Steven Foster.

Left Bank from the high octane barn of Todd Pletcher entered the 2002 renewal of the Whitney off a 5th place finish in the Met Mile. He went to the front and left the 1-5 favorite toiling to get close. It was an unexpected demolition of a champion seeing it was Left Bank's 2nd start for 2002. Unfortunately Left Bank did not make another start as he died shortly thereafter.

Game On Dude entered the 2014 renewal of the Big Cap San Antonio off a 5th place finish in the San Antonio. He went to the front and ran main rivals WTC and MMM off their feet. The Big Cap was the 31st start of his career and the 13th at 10F. The final time of 1:58.17 represented the 1st time he recorded a time below 1:59 in 13 attempts at the distance.

A 7YO horse recording split of 1:31 for a mile and 1:58 for 10F is unheard of but not surprising based on the high octane barn from which the animal hails. There is nothing normal about a 7YO running that fast; just as there was nothing normal about the mysterious death of 5 horses from said barn.

The fans of GOD will say he redeemed himself but true thoroughbred lovers should be asking questions about a performance from a 7YO that is unfathomable.

12 Mar 2014 9:38 AM
Jackie WV

maryg,

Are you saying that a horse has to win the Breeders Cup Classic to be great?  If so, I respectfully disagree. Everyone (equine and human) has a bad day. Even Secretariat lost a few important races. And before anyone gets the wrong idea......I'm not comparing the Dude to Secretariat, just making a point. Yes, the Dude has had the misfortune of his few bad days coming at the wrong time, but I believe he is a GREAT horse!! In my opinion, he is the most under-rated and over-looked horse in racing today!! I couldn't be happier for Game on Dude and for Mr. Baffert.  The Dude will always have a special place in my heart!! By the way, I'm a HUGE "Will Take Charge" fan, but I was still happy to see the Dude redeem himself. Good Luck to team "Dude" this year!!!

12 Mar 2014 9:50 AM
Donna M

Great story!  The Dude deserves accolades!   Thank you!

12 Mar 2014 9:56 AM
Mike Relva

Mary-

Really? Are you serious? Not only the fact he's the oldest horse in the race, but also who he faced. Not his fault you bet on the wrong horse.

12 Mar 2014 12:06 PM
Bellwether

The exposure "The Game" got from "The Big Cap" being on TV was huge...Hope they do this throughout the entire year right up to the BC...There are so many sports networks looking for programing this day and time and Horse racing is one of them!!!...

12 Mar 2014 12:06 PM
TerriV

Oh come on, Maryg!  Of course he's not Secretariat.  No one says he is, but he is a seasoned older gentleman who, when he is on, gives all of us a surge of delight.  He's a talent to remember and enjoy.  Any horse still out there providing such excitement and fun is so important to our sport.  He broke a record against honest, solid competition.  Give The Dude the credit he deserves.  It's horses like this that can redeem horse racing.  Go Dude!!

12 Mar 2014 12:23 PM
threedog

The mile split was 1:32.57. In the Classic it was 1:34.84. Macho Man got the lead at about the mile mark in the Classic, he couldn't do that in the Cap (He's not that fast I guess). Will Take charge closed in a 25.88 final quarter in the Classic - just missing - he couldn't get as close when Dude finished in 25.6. Perfect race for Mikey & the Dude.

12 Mar 2014 1:21 PM
rocky wills

Great animal

12 Mar 2014 2:50 PM
GunBow

maryg:

One doesn't have to think that Dude is an all-time great.  But if after 31 career races, 16 wins, 14 graded stakes wins, and 8 grade 1s, after winning the Big Cap an unprecedented 3rd time, and after posting a stakes record time after having won last year's edition by a stakes record margin of victory you are still not impressed by Game on Dude, then you probably never will be.

It appears that you have chosen to boil Dude's career down to 2 races, and ignore the evidence from the other 29 races.

12 Mar 2014 11:06 PM
ksweatman9

Oh MaryG, It's like I've always said, the critics will find fault until the horse draws his final breath. If the Dude walked on water and pooped out enough cat fish to feed 200, you would somehow fail to be impressed. Zenyatta still has her critics and Game on Dude has his. Big Z's competition was "too weak". The Big Cap field was "too small". Yadda, yadda, yadda. The Dude kicked butt and he did it very impressively. It was a strong field, although Man O' War and Secretariat couldn't make it. There now, that wasn't so hard, the truth. Sorry if that makes some critics uneasy. I hope Game on Dude does win the BC before he retires, not that it will shut up his critics. He's a fine horse and a Breeder's Cup win would be a fitting conclusion to a great career.

13 Mar 2014 4:43 PM
robinm

maryg; your's is a sour grapes comment if I ever heard one.  I'm thinking you bet on the wrong horse.

Coldfacts; your comment insinuating the Dude's win was less from talent and more from something nefarious by Mr. Baffert is uncalled for IMO.  I've often disagreed with your conclusions, but I've never before thought you were classless.

14 Mar 2014 12:37 AM
Jean in Chicago

The Dude abides.  

14 Mar 2014 3:18 PM
Jack Franklin

Coldfacts comments are neither  classless nor uncalled for, IMO.  Since Baffert was the subject of an investigation  last year by the California Horse Racing Board concerning seven of his  horses that died at Hollywood Park. All of them that died were taking a thyroid hormone(Thyro-L) that was prescribed by a veterinarian at Baffert’s request. This is public record. Coldfact’s comments may be “unfair” but Bob Baffert is a sport’s figure, and , as such, is open to such criticism when your horse (GoD) goes from a beyer of 88 to 110- that’s one steep increase. You would search long and hard to find an older horse that had an increase of that proportion in series of a graded stakes races. Sure GoD  was coming off a layoff in the San Antonio Handicap, but he won  the same race last year by six lengths, off the same layoff.

14 Mar 2014 5:07 PM
Racingfan

Excellent article, thank you!  Game On Dude is a great horse!  Is he an all time great?  We will know when his career is completed.  But he has already done great things and the fact that he loses once in awhile doesn't detract from that for true fans of horses and racing.  I really can't stand it when people knock a horse for doing what he does.  Fine to knock people if they have wronged you - but what has this poor horse done to anyone who has to hate on him? Well said Gun Bow and Robinm.  And Coldfacts, I am one who is usually in your corner, but your comments this time are out of line unless you have some "inside facts" to present to back up your statements....?

15 Mar 2014 2:51 PM
Mike Relva

Robin

I'm a big fan of Game On Dude,love this horse. But,Cold Facts is correct regarding one thing,Baffert doesn't care about anything but his fragile ego. Case in point......War Emblem ran his brains out andd all Baffert could muster was he couldn't wait for the Belmont to "be over" as if it after War E. stumbled badly. He never gave this horse the respect he deserved. No way of spinning the fact.

15 Mar 2014 3:00 PM
Paula Higgins

Game On Dude beat two very good horses in Mucho Macho man and Will Take Charge. Mucho Macho Man may have had a bad day but Will Take Charge didn't and Game On Dude beat him handily. Game On Dude still has it and while I am a major MMM fan, I was very happy to see Game on Dude come back. I have always been a fan of his too. Nice post Mr. Mitchell.

15 Mar 2014 10:14 PM
Linda in Texas

Coldfacts goes from saying insulting things about horses and bloggers to a different blog so he can spew his trash.

To dispute what we all saw Coldfacts, you insinuate we are blind and the horse was drugged. This is despicable. Just because his record time coincides with your inbred negativity to anything positive boggles my mind on this blog as it does on the other. It is now not 'how you say something' as Deacon chided you, it is what you say!! I have been mild in what i really wanted to say. Thank you Mr. Mitchell, a very nice article.

16 Mar 2014 12:25 PM
Linda in Texas

ksweatman9, Mike Relva, Gun Bow,robinm,Bellwether, and a host of other's I agree with you. Amazing to me to not give credit where it is due. Game On Dude is amazing. He dusted them. Plain and simple.  

16 Mar 2014 12:41 PM
LadEBuck

Dude has been a terrific horse for a long time and he now has officially three straight Big Caps to his credit, but he should have been taken down in his first one. It was the second worse stewards' decision I have personally witnessed in over fifty years of going to the racetrack. Wonder if they were the same stewards that took down She's a Tiger in the juvenile Fillies last Breeders' Cup. If so how do they justify having taken her down and not Dude?

17 Mar 2014 6:00 PM
Mike Relva

LadEBuck

Seems like your objective is attempting to rain on Dude's parade.

18 Mar 2014 10:33 PM
spectacular bid

in an era when we retire horses with less then 10 starts. cant breed anything that can go a mile and a quarter in less the 10 minutes to save there lives,and break down just thinking about doing either of the above, you would think EVERYONE would applaud G.O.D  whether you like Baffert or not. if he never wins another race, what he did in the big cap was special. im happy I was there in person to feel that electricity which is EXACTLY what this sport now lacks.. let me be the first to nominate DUDE for the hall of fame when hes eligible for it

22 Mar 2014 11:59 PM
Eliza

I love a good comeback story. So, I was hoping Dude would win. Both Dude and his jockey were under a tremendous amount of pressure but they did the job and in a thrilling, professional fashion. Hooray for Dude! PS: As for you squabblers out there, just stop it!

23 Mar 2014 4:10 AM

Recent Posts

More Blogs

Archives