Game On Dude became only the third horse to win the Hollywood Gold Cup more than once when he wired four opponents Saturday in Betfair Hollywood Park's signature race.
The defending champion in the Grade I, $500,000 Gold Cup, the 6-year-old Awesome Again gelding joined Native Diver and Lava Man, who led the post parade Saturday, as a multiple winner of a race run for the first time in 1938.
California-breds Native Diver (1965-1967) and Lava Man (2005-2007) were three-time Gold Cup winners.
Ridden by Hall of Famer Mike Smith, Game On Dude, the 3-10 choice, gave Bob Baffert his fifth Gold Cup victory and third in a row. First Dude won by a nose – over Game On Dude – for the Hall of Fame trainer in 2011.
Owned by a partnership that includes Joe Torre's Diamond Pride LLC, Lanni Family Trust, Ernie Moody's Mercedes Stable LLC and Bernie Schiappa, Game On Dude is 5-for-5 since teaming with Smith in the Grade III Native Diver Handicap last Dec. 1 at Betfair Hollywood Park.
The one-length win under 127 pounds – the most the Kentucky bred has ever carried – was his 14th and the $300,000 payday pushed him over $5 million in earnings. He's banked $5,002,158 in 26 starts.
The last horse to carry 127 pounds to victory in the Gold Cup prior to Saturday was Perrault in 1982.
Favored for the 10th consecutive time, Game On Dude, who is out of the Devil His Due mare Worldly Pleasure, returned $2.60, $2.20 and $2.10 while completing the 1 ¼ miles over Cushion Track in 2:01.88.
Swaps was the shortest-priced winner in Gold Cup history. The legendary California bred paid $2.30 when he won under 130 pounds in 1956.
Able to make the lead without any encouragement from Smith, Game On Dude got away with a very slow 25 second opening quarter and was relaxed through 49.31 and 1:12.60 fractions with stablemate Sky Kingdom and Clubhouse Ride, the 3-1 second choice who was saving ground under new rider Joe Talamo, his closest pursuers.
The newly-blinkered Kettle Corn, a distant third in the 2012 Gold Cup, made a quick bid along the rail before angling out to become Game On Dude's sole danger with a quarter of a mile remaining.
Worse than third only once in nine starts over Cushion Track, the 6-year-old Candy Ride horse separated from the rest of the field, but couldn't catch the winner while in receipt of 11 pounds.
The 10-1 fourth choice, Kettle Corn paid $5.20 and $3.40. The show price on Sky Kingdom, who was 6 ¾ lengths behind the runner-up, was $3.80.
Clubhouse Ride, who won the Grade II Californian June1, and Oilisblackgold completed the order of finish.
“My trip was brilliant,'' said Smith, whose first Gold Cup win came with Total Impact in 2004. “I'm very happy with the outcome, he did what he had to do and seemed to come back really well.
“I was really confident. I hand rode him. He's a fighter and if you're going to try and beat him, you've got to flat run by him. He's not the type of horse you can creep up to and try to run by. He's just a warrior.''
Baffert, whose first two Gold Cup victories came with Real Quiet in 1999 and Congaree (2003), was joined by a large contingent in the winner's circle, including Torre, Schiappa and longtime radio and television personality Larry King.
“He had that look today,'' said Baffert. “He had control of the pace and everything went like we drew it up in our mind.
“He just finds more gears as he goes along. There's added pressure when you train a horse like him. He has a fan base now. You don't want to see him get beat because of the fans. I can hear them cheering him on. When they turned for home, it was like the whole place was on my side.
“(Kettle Corn) made a nice move at him, but I was watching (Smith) and he never moved on him. He just sat on him, he knows this horse so well.''
Bejarano was happy with the trip and effort by Kettle Corn, who is winless in three starts this year. “There was no way I could beat the winner with that type of slow pace,'' he said. “They were walking, walking, so it was very tough to outrun him at the end.''
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