It was Bob Baffert trainee Roadster who drew all the press in the weeks leading up to the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity, but on Labor Day it was his stablemate, Gary and Mary West's Game Winner, who would power home a two-length winner under Mario Gutierrez. The 2-year-old son of Candy Ride, second choice at 8-5 in the wagering, covered seven furlongs over Del Mar's fast main track in 1:23.18. Front-running Rowayton (7-1) finished second, while (1-2) Roadster checked in third.
“He (trainer Bob Baffert) told me 'You know how to ride good horses; go ahead and ride him like you can,'” Gutierrez said. “He said he wanted me to give him a little help out of the gate, then he said he thought he'd be strong for the finish. He was so right. I'm so happy for this opportunity; I'm so happy this worked out this way.”
Game Winner and Rowayton were both very sharp out of the gate, while Roadster was a half-step slow but quickly moved up between those two. Once they'd joined up with the main track, jockey Drayden Van Dyke made the decision to send Rowayton straight to the front and quickly opened up a five-length advantage on the field. He sped through fractions of :22.53 and :45.35, while Roadster drifted back into the body of the field a bit, just alongside Game Winner and Sparky Ville.
Rounding the far turn, Game Winner and Roadster joined forces to chase down the runaway leader Rowayton, who had a two-length lead at the head of the lane. Rowayton faltered slightly at the eighth pole, and Game Winner moved by his stablemate to take the lead, pulling away from the field to win by two lengths. Rowayton was able to hold second over Roadster.
“We're an equal opportunity barn and sometimes I just throw them in there when they're doing well and they even surprise me,” Baffert laughed. “Going down the backside that other horse (Rowayton) was way out there and sometimes if you get out there like that you can steal a race. I just hoped my guys knew they were in good spots. I knew they'd have to sprint home. I knew coming in that (Game Winner) was coming back a little quick, but he's a big strong heavy horse and I knew he could handle it. I'd rather run him again than keep working him. I'm a little disappointed in (Roadster) but it was only his second outing and sometimes the second out when you break their maidens they can get a little flat on you.”
Bred in Kentucky by Summer Wind Equine, Game Winner was a $110,000 yearling picked out by agent Ben Glass at the Keeneland September sale. He won at first asking, to the surprise of his trainer, and Game Winner has now won both of his career starts for earnings of over $200,000.
Hall of Famer Baffert has now won 14 runnings of the Del Mar Futurity. He won his first of seven straight Del Mar Futurities, 1996-2002, with Silver Charm who went on to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness and narrowly miss the Triple Crown when he lost in the Belmont Stakes. Over the years, his Futurity winners have included Officer, Lookin at Lucky and ultimate Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.
Game Winner closed at 22-1 odds on Sunday in the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile Future Wager.
Game Winner flies on the outside to steal the Grade I Del Mar Futurity pic.twitter.com/OsSaJaL194
— Del Mar Racetrack (@DelMarRacing) September 4, 2018
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