Perhaps the best metric of the effort will ultimately be the margin of victory and that memorable image of domination, Game On Dude comfortably cruising far ahead of the frantic and frustrated "rivals." He led throughout and humbled a solid field, winning by 8 ½ lengths over Kettle Corn.
His rider, Martin Garcia, said it was "just fun," said he didn't have to ask Game On Dude for anything special. After all, Garcia pointed out, the reliable veteran knows where he's going: to the winner's circle, of course. And with that, The Dude has become The Boss on the road to the Breeders' Cup. He sits comfortably and very boss-like atop the ESPN.com poll of Breeders' Cup Classic Contenders.
After her dominating performance in the Personal Ensign Stakes, Royal Delta advances from No. 7 to No. 4 in the poll. She took control early and won by 4 ½ lengths while be eased up in the final yards. Her trainer, Bill Mott, said her next start will come in the Beldame on Sept. 28 at Belmont, but after that nothing is fixed. Both the Distaff and the Classic are possible. She clearly would be a Classic contender.
Having proven that even when everything goes his way, he can produce a stinker, Verrazano drops out of the Top 10 after finishing seventh as the 8-5 Travers favorite. The winner of the Travers, however, doesn't replace him in the Top 10. Will Take Charge, who rallied strongly into a moderate pace to win by a nose, is at No. 11 in the voting. But since the Top 10 includes a horse that won't run in the Classic, Will Take Charge probably should be counted among the top contenders.
A major shuffle could come this week, however. Several members of the Top 10 will meet Saturday in the Woodward Stakes at Saratoga.
The Top 10 Breeders' Cup Classic Contenders
1. Game On Dude
With his Pacific Classic victory, he left no doubt about where he belongs in the poll, and at age 6, he appears to be performing at the highest level of his career. He's not only the early favorite for the Classic, but also the clear favorite to be named Horse of the Year.
2. Cross Traffic
The tenacious winner of the recent Whitney has lost but twice in his career, both in a photo. He has continued to improve, according to his trainer, and could make his next start in the Woodward. The Classic distance, however, would seem to be a rather large question.
3. Fort Larned
Last year's Classic winner has been a model of inconsistency this year. He looked invincible when he won the Stephen Foster by six lengths, but then he faltered when unable to get the early lead in the Whitney. He could return in the Woodward.
4. Royal Delta
With a win in the Classic, she could make an argument that she should be Horse of the Year. Or her connections could take the layup in the Distaff and become the first horse to win a Breeders' Cup race three consecutive years.
After disappointing efforts in the Preakness and Belmont, the Kentucky Derby winner is back. He made the lead in mid-stretch and held on gamely for third in the Travers. If he moves forward from that effort, he could be a contender at Santa Anita.
6. Palace Malice
He gave a winning effort in the Travers, but it only got him fourth. Expected to stalk the pace, he crawled out of the gate, entered the first turn with a view of the entire field and raced five-wide in the second turn. Still, the effort confirmed his talent.
7. Successful Dan
He closed powerfully to be second in the Whitney and is probably better on dirt than his more celebrated brother, Wise Dan. Successful Dan is set to return in the Woodward.
After winning last year's Haskell, he nearly died. But he has come back from death's doorstep to be a Classic contender and the sport's best story. He's expected for the Woodward.
8T. Wise Dan
Yes, he would be an intriguing addition to the Classic lineup, but so would Pegasus. And like Pegasus, the reigning Horse of the Year is very unlikely to show up in the Classic starting gate. He's aimed instead at the Breeders' Cup Mile, which he won a year ago.
10. Flat Out
Third in last year's Classic, Flat Out will enter the Woodward off an encouraging victory in the Suburban. He's still capable of winning at the highest level.
Also receiving votes: Will Take Charge (29), Mucho Macho Man (13), Ron the Greek (10), Point of Entry (9), Declaration of War (7), Clubhouse Ride (7), Obviously (6), Moreno (5), Princess of Sylmar (4), Sahara Sky (4), Kettle Corn (3), Beholder (3), Vagabond (2), Graydar (1).
Previous poll: Week 1