Though he came up half a length shy in the Pacific Classic last time out, Game On Dude should be back in his comfort zone as he goes for a repeat in the $250,000 Awesome Again Stakes Sept. 29 at Santa Anita Park.
Trained by Bob Baffert, Game On Dude gets back on dirt for the Awesome Again, which was formerly named the Goodwood Stakes. The race is one of several renamed by Santa Anita this year as it completes its break with the charitable Oak Tree Racing Association, whose lease with the track expired in 2010.
Rafael Bejarano will be aboard Game On Dude, replacing Chantal Sutherland on the 124-pound high weight and expected favorite. They drew post 1 in the field of nine.
The Awesome Again is the feature event among five grade I "Win and You're In" Breeders' Cup Challenge Races to be decided Saturday at Santa Anita, the second day of the track's 24-day Breeders' Cup World Championship meet that ends Nov. 4.
Winners of the challenge races will be entitled to have pre-entry fees and entry fees waived for their respective Breeders' Cup races, provided they are Breeders' Cup-nominated by the pre-entry deadline on Oct. 22. The 1 1/8-mile Awesome Again is the 10th race on the packed program with a 5:38 p.m. PDT expected post.
Game On Dude, runner-up in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic after winning the Goodwood by a half-length, has already secured a berth in this year's $5 million race by virtue of his front-running victory in the Hollywood Gold Cup July 7.
A 5-year-old son of Awesome Again , Game On Dude comes into Saturday's race perfect in four starts at Santa Anita and is back at his preferred trip. Though he has been successful at 1 1/4 miles, winning this year's Gold Cup and the 2011 Santa Anita Handicap, his last three losses have come at the distance. That includes the Pacific Classic Aug. 26 on the Polytrack at Del Mar, where he led by two lengths at mid-stretch as the 13-10 favorite but could not stave off the fast-charging Dullahan.
Game On Dude, owned by Bernie Schiappa, Joe Torre's Diamond Pride, and the Lanni Family Trust, has won three of his five starts at 1 1/8 miles. He has banked more than $2.8 million in his career while compiling a career record of 8-5-1 in 19 races. Six of his wins have come in stakes, including romps in the San Antonio and the Californian prior to the Gold Cup this season.
"We gave a lot of money for a gelding, and I think we bought him a week before the (2010) Florida Derby," Baffert said. "This year, he's really filled out. He's a stronger horse."
The dark bay/brown gelding worked six furlongs on Santa Anita's main track Sept. 23 in 1:13 1/5 under Bejarano, who last rode Game On Dude in an allowance race nearly two years ago. Sutherland had been aboard Game On Dude in his last 10 starts.
Others in the Awesome Again coming out of the Pacific Classic include Game On Dude's former stablemate, Richard's Kid, who was third, as well as Rail Trip (fourth), and Suggestive Boy (fifth).
Richard's Kid did not have an ideal trip in the Pacific Classic, a race he had won twice before. The 7-year-old was the subject of a great deal of attention prior to the race due to his sale and subsequent transfer from Baffert to Doug o'Neill after his sale to a group headed by Triple B Farms.
In the Pacific Classic, Richard's Kid bobbled at the start and was forced to wait behind horses along the inside to the quarter pole before he rallied belatedly to get third, 3 1/4 lengths behind Dullahan.
Garrett Gomez will take over on the son of Lemon Drop Kid, an 11-time winner of more than $2.1 million. They drew post 7 and will get five pounds from Game On Dude.
Samantha Siegel's Rail Trip continues his comeback for trainer Ron Ellis following an even effort while racing wide in the Pacific Classic. The 7-year-old Jump Start gelding won Del Mar's San Diego Handicap prior to that. He boasts a lifetime mark of 9-6-1 in 21 starts with earnings of $1.3 million. Rail Trip is on the far outside and will have regular rider Jose Valdivia Jr. aboard.
Argentina-bred Suggestive Boy will be trying dirt for the first time after pressing the pace in the Pacific Classic and folding late. The 4-year-old Easing Along colt, a four-time grade I winner on turf in his native country, won the grassy one-mile Wickerr Stakes Del Mar in his second United States start. That followed a second in the Shoemaker Mile at Betfair Hollywood Park.
"We're going to give it a try," trainer Ron McAnally said of the dirt experiment. "If he runs well, then we can come back in the Breeders' Cup. If he doesn't run well, then we'll switch to the grass."
There are three 3-year-olds in the field, led by Grade 3 winner Nonios for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. The Pleasantly Perfect colt was runner-up in the Swaps Stakes and Haskell Invitational this summer prior to running fifth in the Travers Stakes last time out.
The other sophomores are Groovin' Solo, making his first appearance since an off-the-board effort in the San Felipe Stakes in March, and Empire Way, looking to snap a nine-race losing streak.
Winning Machine ships south from Emerald Downs for Frank Lucarelli following his head defeat in the Longacres Mile Aug. 19. Winning Machine, who figures to vie with Game On Dude on the lead, races without Lasix.
Balladry, third in the 1 1/2-mile Cougar II Handicap July 27 at Del Mar for trainer Eoin Harty, completes the field.