Game On Dude cruises to victory in the Grade I, $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup… (Benoit Photo )
Bob Baffert's big money horse, Game On Dude, carries the high expectations of both his trainer and the betting public Saturday in the 77th running of the Santa Anita Handicap.
One of the two top races in Santa Anita's annual winter season — the other is the Santa Anita Derby on April 6 — the Big 'Cap is a Grade I stakes that carries a purse of $750,000, with 60% to the winner. Game On Dude, a 6-year-old gelding, has already won $3,252,158 and is the 6-5 morning-line favorite.
Game On Dude, owned in part by the Lanni Family Trust and baseball legend Joe Torre, has won three of his last four races and disappointed badly only in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita. That race was won by Fort Larned, while Game On Dude straggled home seventh under Rafael Bejarano. Baffert switched to Mike Smith in the saddle for the next two races, including the Grade II San Antonio Stakes a month ago at Santa Anita, and Game On Dude won both times.
Second choice on the morning line is last year's Big 'Cap winner, trainer Bill Mott's Ron The Greek. He is also a 6-year-old and has won $1,806,597, with eight wins in 23 starts. He will be ridden by his regular jockey, Jose Lezcano.
The Big 'Cap will be one of three Grade I races Saturday. The others are the $300,000 Frank E. Kilroe Mile for 4-year-olds and up, with Suggestive Boy and Mr. Commons the expected leaders, and the $250,000 Las Virgenes for 3-year-old fillies, with Breeders' Cup champion Beholder the likely betting choice.
The Las Virgenes will go off as the sixth race, the Kilroe the ninth and the Big 'Cap the 10th of 11 on the card.