Thursday, August 29, 2013

Game On Dude: A California Hero

The hallowed assembly of good racehorses in history has had no shortage of members from our young 21st century. Of these new inductees, two geldings are standouts. One is the powerful turf specialist of the east, the Morton Fink-owned Wise Dan. Wise Dan’s perceived path to stardom was quick, and the chestnut is flooded with deserving praise for each win.

But for the other gelding, outside of the west coast the accolades have been only trickling in. Is it the mountain ranges and great expanse of desert dividing California racing from the tracks of the east? Is it the out-of-the-money losses suffered by this gelding in the Dubai World Cup and Breeder’s Cup Classic last year? Dubai can be forgiven--as has been done for other good horses, including Royal Delta--and our hero has bounced back strongly from the Breeder’s Cup. So strongly, in fact, that he has remained undefeated in six graded stakes since, including the best that California has to offer older horses: the Santa Anita Handicap (Gr. I), the Hollywood Gold Cup Handicap (Gr. I), and the Pacific Classic Stakes (Gr. I). He granted 10 pounds to the second place finisher in the Santa Anita Handicap while winning by 7-3/4 lengths, and granted 11 pounds to the second place finisher in the Hollywood Gold Cup while winning under a strong hand ride.

As for the Pacific Classic? Our hero--Game On Dude--conquered that race on his third try by winning in a record 8-½ lengths over a track he has historically disliked. I visited Del Mar over the weekend and not only witnessed and experienced the emotions of Game On Dude’s runaway victory in the Pacific Classic, but was also able to meet the gelding himself. I’ve been a big fan of ‘Dude’ since his win in the 2011 Santa Anita Handicap, and as of today I am still on cloud nine; after all, it’s not every day that you are blessed with the chance to meet a hero. Here’s to you, Game On Dude, and may the praise now flow freely.

Saturday began with watching morning works at Del Mar.

My midwestern eyes never got over seeing palm trees in the Del Mar infield!

Our next stop was the barn. We visited some exceptional horses, including Black-Eyed Susan (Gr. II) winner, Fiftyshadesofhay...

...and Socialbug, a sweet half-sister to Midnight Lute (by Curlin).

We also visited Paynter, who demanded endless peppermints. Paynter races in the Woodword Stakes (Gr. I) at Saratoga this weekend.

But we were there for one horse, the star of the barn...

...the winner of the 2011 Santa Anita Handicap, and so much more...

...Game On Dude!

We spent some time with Game On Dude, and it quickly became clear that he was a kind horse. He was appreciative of peppermints, but also enjoyed attention and pets. He perked up and posed when he heard my Nikon and was engaging.

When we were on our way out, we had to stop at the Dude's stall one more time; I wished him good luck in the Pacific Classic the next day.

On Pacific Classic day, Fed Biz set the tone for the day by winning the Pat O'Brien Stakes (Gr. II).

A little over an hour later, Game On Dude entered the paddock for the Pacific Classic.

The friendly, engaging horse of the day before now had his game face on--it was showtime.

His competition included Kettle Corn, winner of the San Diego Handicap (Gr. II) over Paynter... well as the 2012 Pacific Classic winner, Dullahan.

Game On Dude, Martin Garcia up.

Game On Dude was very mellow in the post parade.

But he quickly seized the lead out of the gate.

What followed was the most intense experience I've had at a race. Heart pounding, I watched as Game On Dude led the field around Del Mar Racetrack. I noted his easy strides and the fact he kept a length between himself and the horse in second place. He had the lead, and he wasn't going to give it up! When he hit the top of the homestretch and began widening his lead, the lump in my throat swelled to tears. I had to choose between cheering and clapping or taking photos, and for once I skipped the photos. You can watch the race here.

Game On Dude and Martin Garcia returning to the winner's circle.

The winner's circle.

Returning to the barn. Thank you for a wonderful weekend, Dude.

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