Saturday's Stakes Recaps

Saturday's Stakes Recaps

Game on Dude runs away brilliantly in Big 'Cap

Game On Dude turned in a tour-de-force performance in Saturday's $751,000 Santa Anita Handicap, winning the 76th edition of the prestigious Grade 1 event by a record 7 3/4-length margin. The classy Bob Baffert-trained gelding seized control at the start of the 1 1/4-mile event and never appeared to take a deep breath the entire way while sailing along uncontested with Mike Smith

"He knocked it out of the park today, he really did, it was extremely impressive," said Smith, who was riding Game On Dude for the third consecutive time on Saturday.

"He's always been able to go a mile and a quarter. I think Mike (Smith) really gets along with him well," Baffert noted. "The horse is just a great horse. What he showed today was amazing."

Winner of the 2011 Big 'Cap, Game On Dude has never been better than he was on Saturday. He broke running from post 8 and angled straight to the rail while clearing the opposition into the first turn, completing the opening quarter-mile in :23 3/5 with a 1 1/2-length cushion. The dark bay six-year-old widened the edge while striding effortlessly into the backstretch and set the next two splits, a half-mile in :47 and three-quarters in 1:10 4/5, on about a three-length advantage.

Game On Dude continued to open up rounding the far turn while not being asked by Smith, a Hall of Fame jockey who was seemingly just along for the ride. His mount passed the mile mark in 1:35 1/5 with a commanding five-length lead and Game On Dude continued to draw away through the final final furlongs in a scintillating display of superiority, finishing up in a very respectable 2:00.

"I looked over at the screen I was counting the poles, even, even, odd, and I thought this is great man, this is perfect," Smith said. "Then, going into the far turn...he takes this big breath, and he just takes off."

"(Smith) must have given him a breather along there somewhere...but the thing about 'Dude, he's got to go along at a fast clip," Baffert added. "I give a lot of credit to Mike Smith, but everybody who rode him got along with him well."

The winning margin surpassed the previous mark held by Bobby Brocato, who won the 1956 Big 'Cap by six lengths, and Game On Dude returned $4.60, $3.40 and $2.10 to his supporters as the overwhelming 6-5 favorite.

"He got into this great rhythm he has, he's got a real high cruising speed, and he was well within himself the whole way around really," Smith said. "He's learned how to breathe, he really has. If you sit real still on him, when he is switching leads, you can feel him do it.

"He takes in a whole lot of air, and once he does that, I feel like I'm loaded again, like I could do whatever I want at that point. He sometimes does it on the backstretch, sometimes on the turn. Today, it was on the turn."

Clubhouse Ride, who raced in third during the early stages and advanced to second on the far turn, outran his 27-1 odds to gamely hold second, out-finishing 4-1 third choice Called to Serve by a nose. It was another 1 1/2 lengths back to 5-2 second choice Ron the Greek, a convincing winner of last year's Big 'Cap, in fourth. Next under the wire came Guilt Trip, Richard's Kid, Handsome Mike, Deacon Speakin' and Stephanoatsee. John Scott was scratched.

Owned in partnership by Diamond Pride, Lanni Family Trust, Mercedes Stable and Bernie Schiappi, Game on Dude posted his first stakes win in the Grade 3 Lone Star Derby in 2010 but made only one more start at three, finishing fourth in the Belmont Stakes.

He came back to the races in 2011 with an allowance/optional claiming win and then recorded a 14-1 nose upset in the Big 'Cap, surviving a lengthy inquiry following a roughly-run stretch drive. He went on to place in three more graded stakes races before returning to the winner's circle that fall in the Grade 1 Goodwood, and Game On Dude concluded his four-year-old season with a good second to Drosselmeyer in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

After beginning last year with an easy score in the Grade 2 San Antonio, Game On Dude shipped to Dubai but never fired over the Tapeta track, checking in 12th in the Group 1 Dubai World Cup. He quickly rebounded when returning to action in the Grade 2 Californian at Hollywood Park last June, winning by a 7 1/4-length margin, and followed that with another easy tally in the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup.

Following a narrow second to Dullahan in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic on Polytrack, he prepped for the Breeders' Cup Classic with a dominant 3 1/4-length triumph in the Goodwood. However, the 6-5 favorite failed to show his customary early speed and was never a factor in the $5 million event, sustaining his first setback at Santa Anita in his sixth attempt over the oval with a well-beaten seventh.

His Breeders' Cup Classic effort last November has proved to be a complete aberration. Game On Dude came back four weeks later to comfortably win the Grade 3 Native Diver at Hollywood Park and toyed with his rivals when opening 2013 in the February 3 San Antonio, rolling to a 6 1/2-length victory. With Saturday's $450,000 paycheck, the outstanding son of Awesome Again has now earned $3,702,158 from a 24-12-5-1 career record.

Bred in Kentucky by Adena Springs, Game On Dude was produced by the stakes-winning Worldly Pleasure, a daughter of Devil His Due.

Baffert was asked what's next.

"I don't know. Charles Town (the Grade 2, $1.5 million Charles Town Classic on April 20) is really enticing," the Hall of Famer said. "It's a million (dollars) to the winner and we know he likes that track (Game On Dude finished second in the race in 2011). I'll see how he comes out of this race. We'll see what happens."

Baffert was asked about another attempt at the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita in November.

"Hopefully, we'll keep him healthy and keep him at this level," the trainer said. "He's going to have to take a break somewhere along the line...but the way he's running right now is pretty incredible."

Vyjack stays unbeaten in Gotham

Pick Six Racing's Vyjack extended his unbeaten sequence to four with a stirring late rally in Saturday's Grade 3, $400,000 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct. Most recently successful in the Grade 2 Jerome, Vyjack upstaged Overanalyze, the 8-5 favorite, who could do no better than fifth in his three-year-old debut.

Vyjack, the 2-1 second choice, was reserved much farther off the early pace by new rider Joel Rosario. Up front, the 33-1 longshot West Hills Giant had crossed over from post 10, appearing to tighten up Elnaawi a bit in the process. Elnaawi was then embroiled in scrimmaging in a rough entrance to the first turn.

As West Hills Giant proceeded to set splits of :24, :48 3/5 and 1:12 3/5, Transparent emerged as his closest pursuer. Overanalyze took up a stalking spot after breaking from post 11, but began to lose ground to the top two nearing the final turn.

At the top of the stretch, West Hills Giant shook free of Transparent, reached the mile mark in 1:37 3/5, and threatened to pull the upset. But then Vyjack gathered steam wider out. Surging inside the final sixteenth, Vyjack drew 2 1/4 lengths clear while completing 1 1/16 miles on the fast inner track in 1:44.

The Rudy Rodriguez trainee, who returned $6.70, $4.20 and $3.20, earned 50 points toward the Kentucky Derby.

"He's a good horse," Rodriguez said. "I wasn't worried when he was (almost) last (early on). He's that type of horse. I was hoping to see him that way. You don't want to gun the horse all the time. He was able to relax good and be comfortable. He showed that he's a really good horse.

"I told Joel just not to move too soon, let him do his race," the trainer added. "I don't think we've gotten to the bottom of him yet."

"A perfect trip," Rosario summed up. "He had always showed a lot of speed, but he was very relaxed today. I let him do whatever he wanted. He looked very good today. He showed he can (come from off the pace). He was very relaxed.

"He broke OK, and I didn't want to get in a hurry. I just let him do whatever he wanted to do. He was pretty relaxed behind horses, and he did everything right.

Turning for home, I was pretty far behind, but that's where he wanted to be. He passed (West Hills Giant), and then he just kept on going."

West Hills Giant held second from Elnaawi by a half-length, but had to survive an objection to keep it. Elnaawi's rider, Channing Hill, claimed foul, alleging interference for the incident entering the first turn. The stewards decided to let the order of finish stand.

"He was a little green," trainer John Terranova said of West Hills Giant. "He was laying in a little bit when (jockey Jose Espinoza) asked him to go on. He finally switched on once that horse went by him. He's always been a little green; that's why we put blinkers on him. We may have to close them up a little bit. We have just a small cup on him; we may have to work with that a little bit, but I think this race will bring him on even more."

Siete de Oros finished fourth, followed by Overanalyze, Transparent, Amerigo Vespucci, Champion Boy, Escapefromreality, Sky Captain and Ore Pass. Now and Then was scratched.

Overanalyze ran flat, according to jockey John Velazquez.

"I was where I wanted to be -- perfect position, nice pace," Velazquez said. "He didn't come up with any run at all. When we got to the turn at the three-eighths pole, he let go and just didn't come with any run at all. Sometimes they need to get back to the distance again; maybe he needed the race."

Overanalyze had not raced since his photo-finish victory in the Grade 2 Remsen on November 24.

"He's got a race under his belt now," assistant trainer Mike McCarthy said. "(Trainer) Todd and (owner Mike Repole) will put their heads together and figure out a spot for him next time."

Vyjack more than doubled his career earnings to $442,200, all amassed at Aqueduct. A 1 3/4-length debut winner over the smart sprinter Clawback in his November 10 debut, the bay gelding thrashed Always in a Tiz by 5 3/4 lengths in the seven-furlong Traskwood Stakes on December 9. Vyjack handled the stretch-out to two turns in the January 5 Jerome, where he argued the pace before gamely outdueling Siete de Oros by a head. He clearly improved off that effort in the Gotham, for he handily dismissed Siete de Oros by a total of three lengths here.

"It's amazing -- words can't describe it," owner David Wilkenfeld of Pick Six Racing said. "You buy a horse, you hope for this, but it's not something you really think about.

"I was nervous (when he was so far back) because I've been watching the races all day, and everything is first to second and pretty tight. Watching it on the replay it was great, unbelievable. I saw him way back -- I saw he broke a step slow -- but (Rosario) got him to relax and he ran like we thought he could run."
Wilkenfeld noted that Vyjack would aim for Aqueduct's final major Derby prep, the Grade 1 Wood Memorial on April 6.

"That's always been our game plan to stay at Aqueduct (and run in the Wood)," the owner said. "We wanted to get a two-turn race, and we thought the Jerome was a little quick (off his previous race), but the Withers (Grade 3 on February 2) was too close to the Gotham and the Wood, so we took a chance and ran back quickly. Then we wanted to take the time and work with him and give him the proper rest and let him mature."

Rodriguez is cautiously optimistic as Vyjack traverses the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

"We'll see," Rodriguez said of the Run for the Roses. "We'll take it one step at a time; hopefully he'll keep improving. I'm excited about him, that's for sure. We thought maybe this horse could take us there. So far he's proven he can belong with this kind. Hopefully he can keep going."

The Wood is likely to serve up a Gotham rematch, as Terranova indicated that West Hills Giant could also try again.

"If he goes forward, we'll stay right here (and point to the Wood Memorial)," Terranova said. "He's a New York-bred -- no reason to leave here."

A son of first-crop sire Into Mischief, Vyjack is a half-brother to Prime Cut, who placed in the Grade 2 Peter Pan and the Grade 3 Lexington in 2011. They are out of the unraced Stravinsky mare Life Happened, herself a half-sister to multiple Grade 3 winner Disco Rico. This is also the family of champion sprinter Smoke Glacken.

Bred in Kentucky by Machmer Hall, Vyjack initially sold as a yearling for $45,000 at the 2011 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July Sale before bringing a winning bid of $100,000 from his current connections at Fasig-Tipton's Midlantic May Two-Year-Old Sale last year.

Clearly Now opens up late in Swale

Cutting back in trip from 1 1/16 miles, Clearly Now improved his record to three-for-three in one-turn races with a decisive 1 3/4-length tally in Saturday's Grade 3, $150,000 Swale at Gulfstream Park.

Under Luis Saez, the 7-1 chance stalked outside in mid-pack as Tulira Castle set a modest opening quarter of :23. The Brian Lynch trainee remained on hold as 50-1 outsider Singanothersong forged clear to lead by a half-length through a :46 1/5 half-mile, but after a four-wide bid turning for home Clearly Now was easily moving best of all in the stretch. The dark bay kicked clear late to finish up in 1:23 over a fast track.

"The turn back in distance worked well," Lynch said. "He bobbled a little at the start which may have been a blessing in disguise. Luis (Saez) gave him a great ride and didn't rush him. Then he finished up strong."

Clearly Now, who races for Up Hill Stable, returned $16, $8.20 and $5.20. Singanothersong just held off 4-1 second choice Undrafted by a nose, with Tulira Castle another half-length behind in fourth.

Completing the order of finish were even-money favorite Forty Tales, Little Distorted, Dighton, Res Judicata, Gombey Dancer, Nevada and Triple Cross. Are You Kidding Me and Merit Man were scratched.

Based at Woodbine at two, Clearly Now won at first asking by 1 1/2 lengths and then prevailed in allowance company by a half-length. Both races were over the Toronto course's Polytrack at a distance of six furlongs. The Horse Greeley colt then set the pace before tiring to third in the December 1 Display going 1 1/16 miles.

In his sophomore bow, Clearly Now was a 42-1 longshot in the Grade 3 Holy Bull on January 26. A pace-pressing second through the opening half-mile, the colt gradually lost ground thereafter but held on for third, 13 1/2 lengths behind Itsmyluckyday. His record now stands at 5-3-0-2, $214,598.

"With a three-year-old you're always tempted to think of the big races. We'll see how he comes out of it and talk about what's next," Lynch added. "If we decide to try him long again, the (Grade 1) Florida Derby (on March 30) is here and would be a possibility. Who knows? He might turn out to be a top turf miler. We'll see."

Bred in Kentucky by Claiborne Farm, Clearly Now was a $30,000 Keeneland September yearling. Produced by the multiple stakes-placed Bend, a daughter of Arch, Clearly Now hails from the family of multiple Grade 2 queen Wend.



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