Game On Dude, generally considered the top handicap horse in America, strengthened his claim to ultimate “Horse of the Year” honors with a romping, 8 ½ length triumph in the Grade I $1 million TVG Pacific Classic Sunday at Del Mar.
With Martin Garcia subbing for the injured Joel Rosario, Game On Dude hustled to the lead in the first few strides from the gate and never was seriously threatened, winning by a record margin in Del Mar's signature contest. The previous record margin was 5 ½ lengths by Skimming in the 2001 renewal.
In a blanket finish for runner-up honors, Kettle Corn, the San Diego Handicap winner this summer, prevailed by a nose over You Know I Know, who was the same margin in front of fourth-place Richard's Kid, the two-time Pacific Classic winner (2009-10).
Byrama, the lone female in a field of a dozen male horses, was seventh, with Dullahan, the 2012 Pacific Classic winner, checking in a disappointing eighth.
Game On Dude, a six-year-old gelding by Awesome Again, owned by the partnership of Diamond Pride, Lanni Family Trust and Schiappa and trained by Bob Baffert, thus became only the second horse in the same year to complete California's handicap triple comprised of the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup and Pacific Classic. Lava Man accomplished the feat in 2006.
Game On Dude, in his third try in the Pacific Classic after having finishing fourth in 2011 and second a year ago to Dullahan, nevertheless went postward the solid 8-5 favorite and returned $5.40, $3.80 and $3.20 while earning $600,000. His career total is $5,602,158 as he continues as the richest horse in training in North America. . He has 15 wins in 27 lifetime efforts.
Kettle Corn, who was ridden by Victor Espinoza, paid $5.60 and $4.40, while You Know I Know paid $9 to show.
The final time was 2:00.69 for the mile and one-quarter on the main track , compared to the record 1:59.54 set by Dullahan a year ago.
The Pacific Classic is one of the Breeders' Cup's “Win and You're In” qualifying races with the winner guaranteed an all expenses paid spot in the Breeders' Cup Classic, set for Saturday, Nov 2 at Santa Anita. Game On Dude finished seventh to Fort Larned in the BC Classic in 2012, his last loss before reeling off six straight victories.
See the full chart here.
Pacific Classic Quotes
MARTIN GARCIA (Game on Dude, winner) – “It was fun out there. He broke really good and got clear. When the other horses went outside I stayed inside. I didn't have to ask him for anything special coming home. He's a professional. He's knows where he's supposed to go.”
“I feel amazing. I still can't believe that I won.”
VICTOR ESPINOZA (Kettle Corn, second) – “He ran a terrific race. They were going so slow up front. I knew that. So I moved a little earlier than I wanted to on the backside so I could get a spot. He fired; he ran big. But we were second best today.”
EDWIN MALDONADO (You Know I Know, third) – “I'm so pleased. This was a wonderful race for this horse. Going into that first turn I could see they were going awful slow, so I started working my way up; going through the cracks. He came running at the end; really well. So good for John (trainer John Sadler). We ran second (Kettle Corn) and third.”
JOSEPH TALAMO (Richard's Kid, fourth) – “Great trip for him. That wasn't a problem at all. He came running, but he wasn't running fast enough.”
CHANTAL SUTHERLAND-KRUSE (Holding Glory, fifth) – “I got away from there a little slow and I was stuck behind a wall of horses the whole way. I just couldn't get him out to run. I'm not going to beat the winner, but maybe I'm second if I get a chance.”
LUIS CONTRERAS (Delegation, sixth) – “I liked my position all the way around. But today, that winner was just too tough.”
GARY STEVENS (Byrama, seventh) – “No problems for me. I think she would have liked it better running against her own kind.”
RAFAEL BEJARANO (Dullahan, eighth) – “No troubles on my trip. I just ran out of horse at the half-mile (pole).”
COREY NAKATANI (Jeranimo, ninth) – “He made a nice move at the three-eighths (pole) and I thought I had dead aim on the winner. But Game On Dude was just too much.”
JULIEN LEPAROUX (Endorsement, tenth) – “It was a good trip. I'm not sure my horse was comfortable with the distance.”
BOB BAFFERT (Game on Dude, winner) – “He ran just like he's been training. He looked terrific out there. When I saw him make the lead on the first turn I knew it was all over. Martin will finally get paid for working him.
“He has been working well and you could tell he's a different horse this year here. He was just doing everything so smoothly. I loved the way he was in the paddock today. He wasn't too keen he was real relaxed. I ran the race in my mind and there was so much other speed. But at the end of the day, I told Martin: ‘You have the fastest horse so don't be afraid to get bold with him.'
“It was very emotional for me. I watched it with (wife) Jill in the paddock, in a room with just the two of us and the paddock judge. To go through what we did with him last year, getting run down late like we did. And for Bernie (Schiappa), it's like his child. If you want to (anger) Bernie just say something bad about Game On Dude.
“Then the way he did it. He just made a huge statement. It was just great day for horse racing in Southern California.”
JOHN SADLER (Kettle Corn second, You Know I Know third) — “We were thrilled with the way our horses ran. Kettle Corn ran a really big race to get second and You Know I Know ran a tremendous third, the race of his life. So we're very, very happy. We wish there had been some pace in front of them but it just wasn't there. The other speed horses just didn't go.”
LEANDRO MORA, assistant to Doug O'Neill (Richard's Kid, fourth) –“It was a good race. Nobody went with the speed and that set up the result that we just saw. Nobody went with Game On Dude and everybody was fighting for second place. My respects to Game On Dude, he's the new Lava Man of the era.”
JERRY CRAWFORD, Donegal Racing, (Defending champion Dullahan, eighth) – “The pace was very slow, 1:12 3/5ths for three quarters was more than a second slower than last year and we didn't have the best of trips.”
Part owner of Game On Dude Joe Torre: “I was nervous. I told Bernie what ever he has, it's catching. I had been pretty calm, and I'd watched Dude run a few times now. But for some reason today I was jumpy as all get out. I can't tell you how exciting it was to watch him. The stretch run, that was goose-bump stuff there.”
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