NATIVE DIVER STAKES | PURSE: $250,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS & UP | GRADE 3 | 1 1/8-MILES
Game On Dude was outhustled by Nonios leaving the starting gate in Saturday's Grade 3, $242,500 Native Diver, but would not allow that younger rival to outfinish him in the 1 1/8-mile Cushion Track test at Hollywood Park.
Nonios held a brief lead until Game On Dude, skimming the rail, bulled his way to the lead entering the first turn. Proceeding to set a modest pace of :24 2/5, :49 4/5 and 1:14 4/5, Game On Dude held a steady advantage of around a length over Nonios to the far turn when the 1-5 favorite began to put some separation between himself and the three-year-old.
Game On Dude looked at the quarter pole as if he would cruise home as Nonios came under a vigorous hand ride from Martin Pedroza. Nonios was not through yet, though, and readily responded to the whip at the top of the stretch to get within a head of Game On Dude at the eighth pole. However, Game On Dude dug in under new jockey Mike Smith and edged clear late to win by 1 1/4 lengths in a time of 1:52 1/5.
Game On Dude, who is owned in partnership by Diamond Pride, Lanni Family Trust, Mercedes Stable and Bernie Schiappa, returned $2.60, $2.20 and $2.10. Nonios finished 1 1/4 lengths clear of 2011 Native Diver winner Kettle Corn, who had 10 lengths on Richard's Kid. The trailer was outsider Make Music for Me.
"I thought Nonios would be the horse to beat in here," trainer Bob Baffert revealed. "I figured Pedroza would try to get aggressive with him. I saw Pedroza go over there and I thought he was going to get in 'Dude's psyche a little bit, maybe try to cut him off or get him off his heels. That's one of the reasons we put Mike [Smith] on him, because when you're a heavy favorite you can go ahead and get aggressive on him. Sometimes you have to go for broke. But I think if Martin had gone on, he could have laid second. But that's when he slowed down a little bit and Mike went ahead and went for it.
"I saw Nonios making that move on the [final] turn and was coming back on, I said 'Whoa,' because this track is pretty demanding. But then he cut back in and he wasn't really tired when he got back."
Game On Dude recorded his first stakes win in the Grade 3 Lone Star Derby in 2010, but people began to take notice when he captured the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap in the spring of 2011. He went on to place in the Grade 3 Charles Town Classic and Grade 3 Lone Star Park Handicap before a nose second in the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup. Following his half-length score in the Grade 1 Goodwood, Game On Dude closed out the year with a runner-up effort in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs.
He opened 2012 with a convincing 5 1/2-length tally in the Grade 2 San Antonio in early February, but nothing went right for him when shipped overseas for the Group 1 Dubai World Cup in late March. Game On Dude struggled over the synthetic Tapeta track and finished 12th, but rebounded on his return to the states with 7 1/4-length tally in the Grade 2 Californian and a 1 1/4-length score in the the Hollywood Gold Cup.
Caught in the final yards by Dullahan in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic next out, Game On Dude cemented Breeders' Cup Classic favoritism with a 3 1/4-length tour de force in the September 29 Awesome Again (formerly the Goodwood), but in the Classic itself he failed to make the lead and retreated to seventh, 15 lengths behind Fort Larned. His record now stands at 22-10-5-1, $3,132,158.
"It's just a shame that he ran great races all year long and had a bad trip in the Breeders' Cup," Baffert added. "But it's a new day today."
Bred in Kentucky by Adena Springs, Game on Dude was produced by the stakes-winning Worldly Pleasure, a daughter of Devil His Due.