The third time was the charm as the Bob Baffert trained Game On Dude was a very impressive winner of the $1 million Pacific Classic (G1) at Del Mar, trouncing the field by 8 ½ lengths.
The six-year-old gelding was trying the race for the third year in a row, checking in fourth in 2011 and second last year behind Dullahan. The gelding seemed to be training better over the polytrack this year, which has been playing tighter and faster, perhaps more like conventional dirt.
Under replacement jockey Martin Garcia, the gelding jumped out to the early lead and simply poured it on in the stretch, stopping the time in 2:00.69 for the 1 ¼ miles.
Kettle Corn won a three-way photo for the runner up spot, completing a $2 exacta that returned $27.40.
Game On Dude was my top pick and we nailed the recommended exacta but failed to come up with the trifecta, which was completed by You Know I Know (40-1), the $1 payoff $331.60.
Game On Dude Wins Pacific Classic
Garcia was a late replacement on Game On Dude for Joel Rosario, who broke a bone in his foot in a spill on Friday and is out of action for six weeks. Rosario was going to be the replacement for Mike Smith, who elected to ride Royal Delta in the Personal Ensign (G1) at Saratoga on Sunday.
Game On Dude earned an automatic starting spot in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). The Pacific Classic is one of the “Win and You’re In” qualifying races with the winner guaranteed an all-expenses paid spot in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita Park.
The gelding now has a six-race win streak since coming up short in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Classic where he was beaten 15 lengths in a seventh place finish as the beaten favorite.
With Wise Dan seemingly staying on turf for the remainder of the year, Game On Dude has become far and away the top horse in the handicap division.
It will be interesting to see if trainer Bob Baffert gives the call back to Smith or sticks with Garcia. Smith did pick up the win aboard Royal Delta in the Personal Ensign, but did not have a banner weekend at the Spa.
The first questionable ride came in Saturday’s Test (G1) where he rode My Happy Face. Despite what appeared to be an inside speed favoring racing strip, Smith elected to keep the filly parked out wide much of the trip, and then fanned her seven or eight wide turning for home and she came up a head and a neck shy of the top spot.
Three races later in the Travers (G1) Smith was aboard Palace Malice, who was expected to be in a tracking role behind the early speed. Instead the colt bobbled slightly coming out of the gate and Smith did not urge the colt forward and found himself eight or nine lengths back in the early going.
The early pace was slow, and the colt did manage to pick it up in the stretch, rallying late to finish a close up fourth. In both instances Smith was on the best horse and got beat.
The three-year-old division was turned upside down on Saturday as Will Take Charge pulled off the upset in the $1 million Travers (G1) at Saratoga, edging 33-1 longshot Moreno by a nose and returning $21.20.
The D. Wayne Lukas trainee was beaten a combined 44 ¼ lengths in the Triple Crown races, but bounced back with a solid runner up finish in the Jim Dandy (G2) over the Saratoga main track, beaten a length by Verrazano and earning a career top Beyer Speed Figure.
The colt showed that effort was no fluke, defeating a field that included Verrazano, Kentucky Derby winner Orb and Preakness winner Palace Malice.
Will Take Charge Upsets Travers
I just can’t seem to get on the right page with Will Take Charge. I have liked this colt ever since he broke his maiden in his second career start at Keeneland. He is out of the $2.4 million earner Take Charge Lady and a half-brother to Florida Derby (G1) winner Take Charge Indy.
I liked him in the Southwest (G3) back in February at Oaklawn Park and he did not fire, and I jumped off the bandwagon and he won the Rebel (G2) in his next start at 28-1. He was my third choice in the Kentucky Derby but failed to fire, my third choice in the Preakness, again not a threat.
I made him my fourth choice yesterday and had him in the bottom of my exotics, but failed to use him on top.
Both Will Take Charge and Moreno are likely headed to the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby (G2) on Sept. 21. Kentucky Derby winner Orb may take on older in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) at Belmont Park on Sept. 28.
The biggest disappointment of the weekend (other than Mike Smith) was Verrazano, who faded to finish seventh in the Travers.
An unverified Facebook page for Verrazano posted, “Hey everybody, it was determined that I have a slight back right tendon strain. Thank goodness it wasn’t and isn’t serious.”
I can’t verify that statement as truth, so we will wait to hear something official from his connections.
Yesterday Pletcher stated, “We’re disappointed in yesterday’s performance but we’re not disappointed in the horse. I can’t offer much excuse. I thought he was in a very good tactical position. [But] when Johnny [Velazquez] needed him to start picking it up around the half-mile pole, he just didn’t have the response we were looking for.”
We are down to seven racing days left at the Spa, but we still have plenty of good stakes action coming up. There are still eight graded stakes left to be run over the next week including Saturday’s $500,000 Forego (G1) and $750,000 Woodward (G1), Sunday’s $300,000 Spinaway (G1) and the $300,000 Hopeful (G1) which will close out the meeting on Labor Day
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