Two years in a row Game On Dude entered the gate for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) as the betting favorite and with a shot of landing the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year. The gelding failed miserably both times and looks for redemption on Saturday in the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap (G1).
The Bob Baffert trainee will be looking to bounce back not only off his disappointing ninth place finish in last fall’s Classic, he has some work to do to turn around his form after starting his 2014 campaign with a disappointing fifth place finish in the San Antonio (G2).
Standing in his way are Mucho Macho Man and Will Take Charge, who were separated by just a nose in the Classic last fall. The champ started his 2014 campaign with a 14-length score in the Sunshine Millions while Will Take Charge lost to Lea in the Donn Handicap (G1) at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 9.
The Big ‘Cap will be broadcast live as part of the Jockey Club Tour on Fox at 7:00 pm eastern on Fox Sports 1.
The Santa Anta card gets underway at noon local time and includes four strong supporting stakes: the $300,000 San Felipe Stakes (G2) for three-year-olds, the $75,000 China Doll Stakes for three-year-old fillies on turf, the $250,000 San Carlos Stakes (G2) for sprinters, and the $350,000 Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1) on turf.
The San Felipe is a Derby points race and drew a field of 10 but lost one of the major contenders with the announcement on Thursday from trainer Bob Baffert that Bayern will be scratched with a foot bruise. Baffert will saddle Midnight Hawk, who ran third in the Robert B. Lewis (G2).
Tampa Bay Downs hosts the other Derby points race on Saturday with a field of 10 going 1 1/16 miles on the main track in the $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby (G2).
Trainer Todd Pletcher sends out an imposing pair in Sam F. Davis (G3) victor Vinceremos and Surfing U S A, who makes his stakes debut after running a good second to the highly regarded Top Billing last out in an first level optional claimer. Pletcher won this race last year with Verrazano.
Mark Casse saddled 2012 winner Prospective and is back with a pair of runners in Holy Bull (G2) runner up Conquest Titan and Sam F. Davis fourth place finisher Matador.
Saturday’s Best Plays Report will include all of the stakes action from Santa Anita and Tampa Bay Downs.
Let’s head out to Santa Anita for Saturday’s featured race of the day:
Santa Anita Race 9 The Santa Anita Handicap (G1) Post time 4:00 PT
7 Game On Dude 5-2
2 Mucho Macho Man 9-5
1 Will Take Charge 2-1
3 Blingo 8-1
Game On Dude is looking to become the first three-time winner of the Big ‘Cap and he is going to have to turn it around after an ugly fifth place finish in the San Antonio (G2) last out as the 4-5 chalk. For the second year in a row, he failed to fire in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), but he did bounce back with a good effort tin the Clark Handicap (G1) at Churchill Downs where he got run down by Will Take Charge late.
If we toss his two Classic clunkers, he has won seven of his eight starts over the main track here. Last year’s Big ‘Cap win was gate to wire and he earned a career top speed fig in the effort. The gelding does have the tactical edge here, as there is not much true early speed in here. There are a couple of runners capable of going, but it seems more likely he could be controlling things in the early stages. He has won five times at the distance in a dozen tries and among the top three here is likely going to offer the best value for the top spot.
Mucho Macho Man rolled over an overmatched field of Florida breds in the Sunshine Millions Classic, drawing away to win by 14 lengths in his first start this year. The six-year-old has run well in all three tires over the main tack here, a runner up finish in the Classic in 2012 and two of his best-looking efforts winning the Awesome Again (G1) and the Classic last year.
Hall of Fame rider Gary Stevens seems to fit this guy like a glove and he is coming into this race as if she is going to move forward off his last effort, which will make him tough to beat here. I have made it a habit of underestimating this guy and that did not turn out well for us twice last year.
Will Take Charge goes from getting beaten 45 ¼ lengths in the Triple Crown races to an Eclipse Award for top three-year-old, an unbelievable accomplishment. The Lukas trainee just missed in the Classic last year in a tough beat, which was his first start against older. The trainer did not stop on him and wait for 2014, he brought him right back in the Clark Handicap (G1) where he ran down Game On Dude.
The colt got beat last out in the Donn Handicap (G1) as Lea got the jump on him heading for home, beaten 1 ½ lengths for the top spot while spotting that rival six pounds. The colt has put in three sharp works at Oaklawn Park since his last start and he is going to be running late, just not sure he is going to get a perfect pace set up.
WIN: Game On Dude to win at 5-2 or better.
EXACTA: 2,7 / 1,2,3,7
TRIFECTA: 2,7 / 1,2,3,7 / 1,2,3,7,8
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