PACIFIC CLASSIC | PURSE: $1,000,000 | 3-YEAR-OLS AND UP | GRADE 1 | 1 1/4 MILES
Overcoming concerns about the Del Mar Polytrack, Game On Dude demolished the field by a record 8 ½ lengths in the $1 million TVG Pacific Classic in the most dominant performance of his career Aug. 25.
Ridden by Martin Garcia, who replaced the injured Joel Rosario, 8-5 favorite Game On Dude led from start to finish for the seventh Grade 1 victory of his illustrious career. The Pacific Classic, a "Win and You're In" challenge race for the Breeders' Cup Classic, guarantees a third crack at the championship event for the 6-year-old Awesome Again gelding.
This was also the third try in the Pacific Classic for Game On Dude, who was fourth in 2011 and second last year for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert and the ownership group of Joe Torre's Diamond Pride, the Lanni Family Trust, Mercedes Stable, and Bernie Schiappa. The big dark bay was bred by Adena Springs out of the Devil His Due mare Worldly Pleasure.
Baffert won his fourth Pacific Classic, behind only Bobby Frankel's six victories in the 23-year-old event. Two races earlier, Baffert won the Pat O'Brien Stakes for the fifth year in a row and seventh time overall with Fed Biz.
"It was a very emotional win for my wife [Jill] and I and family and Bernie [Schiappa]," Baffert said. "this horse has never gotten the respect. He's proven he's getting better and better. I'm just happy for Martin. He's the one who prepares this horse for everybody. Now he gets a big fat check."
The final time for the 1 ¼-mile event was 2:00.69. Trainer John Sadler saddled both the second- and third-place finishers. Kettle Corn won a four-horse photo for the runner-up spot, with You Know I Know third. Two-time Pacific Classic winner Richard's Kid was fourth.
Game On Dude joined Lava Man in 2006 as the only horses to sweep all three of Southern California's major handicap races in the same year after earlier victories in the Santa Anita Handicap and Hollywood Gold Cup. Game On Dude is on a six-race win streak, including a 5-for-5 campaign in 2013.
Breaking from post 11, Garcia sent Game on Dude to the front at the outset, angling to the inside as his main pace rival, Canadian invader Delegation raced well out on the track. Game On Dude dictated the pace from there, clipping off easy fractions of :24.19, :47.96, and 1:12.61 as Delegation eventually angled to the inside to race second.
Corey Nakatani, sensing the slow tempo on Jeranimo, went for an early run on the outside to join Delegation in pursuing the leader. By the time Game On Dude reached the quarter pole in 1:36.61, they were both being asked for more as the leader started to pull away.
Game On Dude was in control by about three lengths at the top of the lane and expanded his advantage to six mid-stretch without need of much urging from Garcia. They sailed under the line far in front in an impressive performance.
Wearing an ear-to-ear smile afterward, Garcia said, "This means a lot to me, especially on a horse like that."
"It was fun out there," he added later. "He broke really good and got clear. When the other horses went outside I stayed inside. I didn't have to ask him for anything special coming home. He's a professional. He's knows where he's supposed to go."
A wall of horses overcame Delegation and Jeranimo in deep stretch, with Kettle Corn and Victor Espinoza finishing best of the rest for second by a nose over You Know I Know, ridden by Edwin Maldonado. Richard's Kid was a nose back in fourth, followed by Brazilian-bred Holding Glory, Delegation, Byrama, second choice and defending Pacific Classic champion Dullahan, Jeranimo, Endorsement, Farraaj, and Blueskiesnrainbows.
Donegal Racing's Dullahan, shipping in from Churchill Downs for trainer Dale Romans, was never a factor in a disappointing effort. The three-time Grade 1 winner has lost six in a row since his half-length triumph in last year's Pacific Classic.
"The pace was very slow; 1:12 ⅗ths for three quarters was more than a second slower than last year and we didn't have the best of trips," said Jerry Crawford, managing partner for Donegal Racing.
Game on Dude's 15th lifetime win in 27 starts boosted his career earnings to $5,602,158, making him the richest active horse in North American racing.
"He ran just like he's been training," Baffert said. "He looked terrific out there. When I saw him make the lead on the first turn I knew it was all over.
Under 124 pounds, he paid $5.40, $3.80, and $3.20 while keying a $27.40 exacta. C R K Stables' Kettle Corn, winner of the San Diego Handicap July 27, returned $5.60 and $4.40. You Know I Know, stepping into Grade 1 company off an allowance/optional claiming win over the track Aug. 3, was $9 to show.