Gelding will employ his usual style in Santa Anita Handicap
By J.J. Hysell
The plan for favorite Game on Dude in Saturday’s Garde 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap is obvious according to trainer Bob Baffert.
“I’ll put it this way, there’ll be no rating tactics with him,” Baffert said. “He needs to rock and roll. He likes to run like that. He’s not the kind of horse that can make the lead in 49 and change and then kick away. He’s better off with somebody going with him. You gotta let this horse run early and you can’t take a hold of him.
“I think he’s better than he was two years ago. His sheet numbers are better and he’s doing good.”
Game on Dude (6-5) has bounced back from his disappointing seventh-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic with two straight graded stakes wins.
He’ll face his toughest test of this season Saturday as defending Santa Anita Handicap champion Ron the Greek (5-2), fresh off a romp in the slop of the Sunshine Millions Classic, lines up for the 1 1/4-mile test.
The two are a contrast in styles: Game on Dude needs to freewheel on the lead while Ron the Greek is a late-rallying closer.
Just as he did last year, Ron the Greek arrived Sunday to get acclimated. This year isn’t the same scenario, however, said Bill Mott assistant Rudolph Brisset.
“He is doing as good as he was last year, but this year it is a very different race,” he said, “We have to stop talking about last year. Last year, the set up, it was unusual, they went (the first half-mile) in forty-four, so it is a really different race this year; it will be. This year, if they go forty-six and change, we’ll be lucky. If Game On Dude gets the lead, maybe forty-eight and change.”
Ron the Greek drew the rail post and will have Jose Lezcano aboard. Mike Smith will guide Game on Dude from post 9.
Earlier this week, Baffert expressed his discontent with the assigned high weight of 125 for Game on Dude, compared to 122 for Ron the Greek.
“I thought I’d at least get the same weight as Bill Mott’s horse,” he said. “That’s a good horse. Every time I run against those good horses, they beat me. My horse is a tough little horse, but Ron the Greek’s tough, too.”
Gary Stevens will guide Called to Serve (6-1), who won the Discovery and the Broad Brush on the East Coast.
“I’ll leave it up to Gary, but his last two races he’s been four or five back and he just starts plucking them off,” trainer Nick Canani said. “I’d like to see him in the clear at some point down the backside. We drew the four hole, which is fine.”
If Called to Serve wins, Nick and Julio Canani will be the first father-son duo to win the Santa Anita Handicap. The elder Canani won in 1989 with 50-1 shot Martial Law.
John Scott (20-1), the lone California-bred in the field, will be moving from turf to dirt after winning the Crystal Water Stakes. Martin Garcia will ride the Carla Gaines-trained runner.
“I’m worried about the mile and a quarter on the dirt,” said John Harris, co-breeder and owner of John Scott. “He’s run well at Santa Anita on the dirt but not so impressively that this is an easy decision. And, Game On Dude won it (in 2011) in a real fast time. So, I’m a little concerned, quite frankly, it’s not an easy race. This horse is pretty consistent. He’s tough to type cast because he could run well going six furlongs on the dirt or he could run well going a mile and-a-half on the turf, and everything in between.”
The wild card could be Graham Motion’s Stephanoatsee (8-1) with Julien Leparoux. The son of A.P. Indy was a closing second to Guilt Trip in the Strub at Santa Anita in his last start.
Also entered are: Handsome Mike (20-1), Deacon Speakin’ (50-1), Clubhouse Ride (30-1), Richard’s Kid (12-1) and Guilt Trip (6-1).