ARCADIA, Calif. (Mar. 3, 2013) -- It was a subtle moment, but to Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith it meant everything.
When Game On Dude was rumbling down the backstretch of Saturday’s $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap with a lead of more than two lengths, Smith allowed his mount to pause for a few strides.
“I gave him a little breather,” Smith said. “He takes in a whole lot of air. When he does that, I feel like I’m loaded again.”
With that extra energy, Game On Dude was gone. Through the final three-eighths, Game On Dude ($4.60) raced on his own. He drew away from eight rivals to score a historic win in the Grade 1 Big Cap by 7 3/4 lengths, finishing 1 1/4 miles in 2:00.14.
Game On Dude carried top weight of 125 pounds, spotting his rivals three to 10 pounds. The margin of victory was the largest in 76 runnings of the track’s signature race for older horses, surpassing the previous mark of six lengths by Bobby Brocato in 1956.
Game On Dude won his third consecutive stakes in the Big Cap, a win that left Hall of Famer trainer Bob Baffert delighted.
“I think this is a race that will stamp him as the great horse that he is,” he said. “I was impressed watching him myself as a fan.
“I give all the credit to Mike Smith He really gets along with the horse.”
Game On Dude is owned Bernie Schiappa, Mercedes Stable, the Lanni Family Trust, and Joe Torre. A 6-year-old gelding by Awesome Again, Game On Dude has won 12 of 24 starts and $3,702,158.
Game On Dude won the 2011 Santa Anita Handicap, but did not start in the race last year. With Saturday’s win, Game On Dude becomes the fourth horse to win two runnings of the Santa Anita Handicap, preceded by John Henry (1981-82), Milwaukee Brew (2002-03), and Lava Man (2006-07).
Clubhouse Ride, a 27-1 outsider, finished second, a nose in front of the 4-year-old Called to Serve, the 4-1 third choice. Ron the Greek, the winner of the 2012 Santa Anita Handicap, finished fourth, followed by Guilt Trip, Richard’s Kid, Handsome Mike, Deacon Speakin’, and Stephanoatsee.
Game On Dude broke from post 8 and was angled toward the rail shortly after the start to take control of the race. Smith had Game On Dude in front by 1 1/2 lengths after a quarter-mile in 23.64 seconds, and in front by 2 1/2 lengths after a half-mile in 47.19 seconds. Through the race, Smith’s confidence soared.
“He was incredible today,” Smith said. “It’s a matter of getting him into his rhythm.”
Clubhouse Ride, who was second to Game On Dude in the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes on Feb. 2, was third early and a clear second turning into the stretch. Clubhouse Ride, a 5-year-old trained by Craig Lewis, was not able to threaten Game On Dude, but held off a fast-closing Called to Serve in the final sixteenth.
“He ran his [tail] off,” Lewis said. “He gave it his all.”
Called to Serve made his first start in a Grade 1 and first start over1 1/4 miles in the Big Cap. Called to Serve raced in traffic on the turn, which left jockey Gary Stevens frustrated at the result.
“I’m disappointed he didn’t run second,” Stevens said. “At the three-eighths pole, he was in tight and he didn’t like it. We should have been second, but no one was going to beat the Dude today.”