Game On Dude will look to stamp his ticket to the Grade 1, $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic when the gelding faces six foes in the Grade 1, $500,000 Gold Cup at Santa Anita on Saturday.
The Gold Cup will be run for the first time at Santa Anita after being previously contested at the now-closed Hollywood Park. The race is part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” series with the winner earning an automatic starting spot in the Classic.
This year’s Breeders’ Cup will be run over two days at Santa Anita on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1.
Game On Dude won the last two runnings of the Gold Cup at Hollywood Park and is seeking to join Native Diver and Lava Man as the only three-time winners of the race.
Other great horses that have won the Gold Cup include Seabiscuit, Citation, Swaps, Round Table, Ack Ack, Ferdinand, Best Pal and Cigar.
The Bob Baffert trainee will again have Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith in the irons. The gelding has won eight of his 11 starts over the Santa Anita main track but comes into this year’s running having lost four of his last five starts.
In his last outing, the gelding dueled for the early lead and could not match strides late with Imperative in a runner-up finish in the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic, a race Game On Dude won last year. Imperative is the second choice on the morning line for the Gold Cup at 4-1.
While Game On Dude has been one of the best older horses the last three seasons, he may be best known for tossing in clunkers in the last two Breeders’ Cup Classics. Last fall, the gelding faded to finish ninth as the beaten favorite and in 2012 was the beaten chalk in a seventh-place finish. A victory in those races may have sewn up Horse of the Year honors.
Steve Haskin of Blood Horse thinks Game On Dude should get more respect despite his poor performances on the biggest stage.
“The bottom line is, it is time to recognize the achievements of Game On Dude and not focus only on his two inexplicable performances in the Classic,” Haskin wrote. “You don’t have to be great to do great things, and Game On Dude has accomplished enough great things to be remembered for what he’s done and not what he hasn’t done.”
A win on Saturday will place Game On Dude squarely on top of the older handicap division and would be his 15th graded stakes win in his career.
Standing in his way again is Imperative, who paid $55.00 for a $2 wager in his upset victory in the Charles Town Classic. The gelding had finished more than 17 lengths behind Game On Dude in his previous start in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap. Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux has the return call.
The top three finishers of the Grade 2 California Stakes return. The race was won by Clubhouse Ride, who beat heavy favorite Fury Kapcori, who took the runner-up spot. It was another 2 1/4 lengths back to Majestic Harbor, who is back seeking to turn the tables.
Two South American imports add intrigue to the race. Salto Del Indio is a Group 1 winner in his native Chile, while Lideris won a Group 1 race in Peru.
The Gold Cup will be televised on NBC Sports Network at 7 p.m. ET.
How to Wager on the Gold Cup
Game On Dude is going to be south of even money, and we cannot make much money wagering on the gelding to win. I am going to give a slight edge to Fury Kapcori, who ran second in the Californian. This will be his first start at the 1 1/4 mile distance, and he is bred to handle it, being by Tiznow out of a Go for Gin mare.
The colt is trained by Jerry Hollendorfer and is a two-time stakes winner over the Santa Anita main track. He is worth a look if he goes off near his 9-2 morning line. I will box him in the exacta with Game On Dude and use the two on top of Clubhouse Ride and the two South American imports in the trifecta.
Follow Michael Dempsey on Twitter: @turfnsport