First Dude, left, with jockey Martin Garcia, outruns Twirling Candy, with… (Associated Press / Benoit…)
Horse racing was trying to create a new star in Twirling Candy, but instead it was a familiar star in trainer Bob Baffert who brought some life to the 72nd running of the Hollywood Gold Cup.
Baffert's First Dude and Game On Dude put forth a strong stretch run and finished first and second in the $500,000 Grade I race at Hollywood Park on Saturday. First Dude won by a nose and paid $10.20 to win. Twirling Candy finished third, a neck behind Game On Dude.
"When they hit the wire, I knew I had won it," Baffert said. "I just didn't know which horse had won. I was hoping for a dead heat, that would have been really cool. . . . [It would have] really bust out the Breeders' Cup."
The winner of the race is guaranteed a spot in the Breeders' Cup Classic on Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs. The Gold Cup is part of the Breeders Cup Challenge, where the winner is given a fees-paid spot in the 1¼-mile Classic. That's a savings of $150,000, plus the Breeders' Cup gives the owners, or maybe the horse, a $10,000 travel allowance. Somebody's flying first class.
It wasn't as if Twirling Candy, who entered the race with seven wins in nine tries, ran a bad race. In fact, trainer John Sadler had no excuses even though his horse was carrying a high weight of 122 pounds.
"It looked like today he had a perfect trip and just didn't have an excuse," Sadler said. "Maybe we'll look at the distance."
Twirling Candy broke alertly and comfortably settled behind Game On Dude for most of the race. Game On Dude, with Chantal Sutherland aboard, the first woman to ride in the Gold Cup, held the lead until the top of the stretch when Twirling Candy moved in front. First Dude was running sixth with a quarter of a mile to go and went three wide down the stretch to win at the wire.
Baffert praised the ride by Martin Garcia as having "a lot of confidence." It was the fourth time Baffert and Garcia have teamed with First Dude and the third win.
Baffert said the Dudes regularly work together and he plans to take them to Del Mar and see how they handle the synthetic surface. Hollywood Park is also synthetic, but is considered superior because it more approximates dirt. Baffert called the Del Mar surface, the subject of controversy in recent years because of the number of breakdowns, "different."
The target race will be the Pacific Classic on Aug. 27.
The first and second place in the signature race of the Hollywood Park summer season made up for an earlier disappointment for Baffert in the $150,000 Swaps Stakes. The prohibitive favorite, Coil, was run down in the stretch by 19-1 longshot Dreamy Kid and finished second. Baffert's other horse, Uncle Sam, finished third.
Baffert plans to take Coil east and run him in the Haskell Stakes or the Jim Dandy.