Jockey Chantal Sutherland rides Game On Dude to victory in the Hollywood… (Grant Hindsley / Associated…)
If Game On Dude is going to win the horse-of-the-year award, then Saturday's $5-million Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita is an ideal setting to make a lasting impression.
A year after leading in the stretch and being overtaken by the late charge of Drosselmeyer at Churchill Downs, Game On Dude will try again to win the Classic, but this time the 5-year-old son of Awesome Again has a home-track advantage. So far, Game On Dude is a perfect five for five at Santa Anita.
"You want to win the Breeders' Cup, you have to bring your A game that day," Game On Dude's trainer Bob Baffert said. "He likes it here. He's undefeated here."
Saturday's featured event of a 15-race world championship weekend offers a field of 12 experienced, versatile performers. Baffert has confidence in Game On Dude, who's partly owned by former Dodgers manager Joe Torre.
"He ran a great race [last year]," Baffert said. "He got run down. I think he's a better horse this year. He's filled out. He seems more relaxed."
Baffert, who has trained three Kentucky Derby winners, is trying to win his first Classic.
Game On Dude, the 9-5 pre-race favorite, will be ridden by Rafael Bejarano, who replaced Chantal Sutherland after a second-place finish in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar in August. Game On Dude is seeking his third Grade I victory of 2012.
There are lots of contenders in the Classic, and trainer Bill Mott has three of them in Flat Out, Ron The Greek and To Honor And Serve.
Ron The Greek won the Santa Anita Handicap in March, and even though the track has changed with additional sand added, his performance can't be forgotten. Flat Out won the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park and has jockey Joel Rosario, who won four races at Santa Anita on Thursday. And To Honor and Serve took the Woodward Stakes at Saratoga in September.
There's also Richard's Kid, a 7-year-old who has been one of Southern California's best handicap horses, and the improving Nonios, a 3-year-old who finished second to Game On Dude in the Awesome Again on Sept. 29.
Another Classic contender is Mucho Macho Man, who has Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, and won the Suburban Handicap and was second by a neck in the Woodward. Trainer Kathy Ritvo has been impressed with Mucho Macho Man's liking of Santa Anita's track.
"He just floats [over the track]," she said.