Game On Dude
The early career of this Awesome Again offspring consisted of the Triple Crown trail. By the time he was finished, he had taken his place among the most memorable older horses to grace Southern California racing in the 21st century.
As a 3-year-old, Game On Dude made stops at Gulfstream Park, Churchill Downs, Lone Star Park, and Belmont Park. He broke his maiden in start number two when sent in a route, and that win foreshadowed his career. Every win thereafter came at more than a mile.
Originally owned by Kuehne Racing, Game On Dude switched from the barn of Michael Mareina to Bob Baffert before the Grade III Derby Trial Stakes, his new ownership consisting of Lanni Family Trust, Mercedes Stable, LLC, and Bernie Schiappa (who joined Kuehne prior to the 2010 Florida Derby). Game On Dude's biggest win at three came not long after in the Grade III Lone Star Derby. As far as the Triple Crown series went, he was sent to the Belmont, where he finished fourth after leading for much of the way. The 1 1/2 mile event was the 2010 finale for the Dude, but he was coming back at four years of age.
Stationed at Santa Anita in the winter of 2011, Game On Dude won an allowance before scoring a thrilling nose victory in the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap, giving jockey Chantal Sutherland the honor of being the first female rider to win the Hundred Grander. The result was controversial due to bumping going on in the stretch between Game On Dude and Twirling Candy, but the latter was disqualified while Game On Dude stayed in first. But that started off what turned into a fine year for the gelding.
Outside of Del Mar's Grade I Pacific Classic that summer, Game On Dude never finished lower than third, placing in graded stakes all over the country like the Grade II Charles Town Handicap, the Grade III Lone Star Park Handicap (which marked the first time baseball legend Joe Torre was listed as part owner under Diamond Pride LLC), the Grade I Hollywood Gold Cup, and the Grade I Breeders' Cup Classic. He also added the Grade I Goodwood Stakes to his win count in what was a solid campaign.
Game On Dude's 2012 campaign saw off the board finishes in the Dubai World Cup and Breeders' Cup Classic, which were his season debut and finale, respectively. But he was close to unstoppable in between. He swept the Californian Stakes and Hollywood Gold Cup, took second in the Pacific Classic to improve on his previous start in the race, and returned to win the Grade I Awesome Again Stakes that autumn at Santa Anita. The Awesome Again was the new name for the Goodwood, which made Game On Dude just the third horse to win the race in consecutive years, joining Lord at War (1984, 1985) and Pleasantly Perfect (2002, 2003).
To wrap up the year, the Dude returned to Hollywood Park, and the gelding won a race named for another gelding in the Grade III Native Diver Stakes. That last race saw Mike Smith ride Game On Dude for the first time. Whereas Sutherland had largely been the primary rider for the son of Awesome Again, piloting him to wins that included the 2011 Goodwood and the 2012 San Antonio Stakes and Hollywood Gold Cup, a change was made after the Pacific Classic. Overall, a few jockeys piloted the Dude, but Sutherland was his first main rider in California. Smith would become his other main rider, but Martin Garcia was aboard for some big wins as well.
Without question, Game On Dude's best season came at 2013. Now at the age of six, he steamrolled over everybody in his way for most of the year, with fans seeing the blue and orange silks complete with a basketball in the back go to the winner's circle myriad times. He kicked it off with a win in the San Antonio, and that put him alongside Gun Bow (1964, 1965) and Gentlemen (1996, 1997) as two-time winners of the longtime meet staple. Building off that victory, he joined John Henry (1981, 1982), Milwaukee Brew (2002, 2003), and Lava Man (2006, 2007) as multiple winners of the Santa Anita Handicap after missing the 2012 renewal in favor of the Dubai World Cup. A new record for margin of victory was set by Game On Dude, who came to the wire 7 3/4 lengths ahead of Clubhouse Ride. That amazing performance broke the longstanding record held by Bobby Brocato, winner of the 1955 edition.
Game On Dude followed his Big 'Cap score with a win back East in the Grade II Charles Town Classic before returning to the Southland to make history at Hollywood Park by joining Native Diver (1965, 1966, 1967), and Lave Man (2005, 2006, 2007) as multiple winners of the Hollywood Gold Cup in the race's last year at the Track of the Lakes and Flowers. And like Lava Man before him, Game On Dude pulled off the rare triple of sweeping the Big 'Cap, Gold Cup, and Pacific Classic when he finally won Del Mar's biggest event that summer. The latter performace came with a then-record 8 1/2 length victory, which has since been topped only by Acclerate (2018).
All of those accomplishments earned Game On Dude his rightful place in California racing history.
The final two races of 2013 came in the Breeders' Cup Classic (which netted a seventh place) and the Grade II Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs, where Game On Dude took second to finish up a sublime year. While racing at five yielded his best body of work for a season, the Dude's greatest achievement was still in the future.
Back at Santa Anita for the 2014 winter/spring meet, Game On Dude was fifth in the San Antonio after battling with Blueskiesandrainbows and Imperative. Even with the setback, the connections were not deterred, sending him to defend his Big 'Cap title against the likes of Will Take Charge, winner of the Outstanding 3-Year-Old Eclipse Award for 2013, and Mucho Macho Man, who captured the 2013 Breeders' Cup Classic.
Albeit he was the reigning Big 'Cap champion, Game On Dude was not favored to win the race, sent off as the third choice behind Mucho Macho Man and Will Take Charge. But the Dude took over the pace early, leading around the clubhouse turn and the backstretch with Mike Smith in the irons. His two major rivals briefly met up with him in the far turn, but Game On Dude shook them off. He had the lead all to himself, which he liked, and no one caught him in the stretch as more than 27,000 fans at Santa Anita saluted him with a deafening roar. What they all saw was Game On Dude become the first three-time winner of the Santa Anita Handicap in what was a thrilling and historical victory that brought with it a new race record of 1:58.17, besting the thirty-five year old mark set by Affirmed.
Much as Native Diver is forever linked with the Hollywood Gold Cup, Game On Dude ensured he will always be synonymous with the Big 'Cap with his unprecedented run in the legendary race.
The dark bay gelding raced three more times after that, his best finish a second in the Charles Town Classic. He tried for a third straight Gold Cup when it was moved to Santa Anita, but was thwarted in that effort. The same happened in the Pacific Classic, where he took fourth in what ended up being his final career start.
Game On Dude retired with a lifetime record of 16 wins, 7 seconds and a third in 34 career starts, earning just under $6.5 million. He won at six different tracks, capturing fourteen graded stakes along the way, all of them routes. Eight of them were in the Grade I category.
But those statistics are only a fraction of the story.
When reviewing what the Dude accomplished on track, he could remind a longtime fan of the old days at the races. Game On Dude was like a throwback to a bygone era. He showed up to race in the big events, and while he lost some of them, he also won his share, giving fans history on occasion as well.
It is rare for a horse to win either the Santa Anita Handicap or Hollywood Gold Cup more than once, but the Dude peformed that feat in both races. That goes for sweeping the three major races in Southern California, too. Only Best Pal and Lava Man did so before Game On Dude, and Lava Man was the only one who swept them in the same year. Indeed, Game On Dude earned his way into rare company when he was on the circuit.
That also rang true for races like the Goodwood/Awesome Again Stakes and the San Antonio, which saw few equines win on more than one occasion. As with the aforementioned Grade I contests, the Dude had a knack for coming up with credentials that were hard to accomplish.
Something else that must be noted with Game On Dude is how he had the ability to carry weight. Multiple races saw the Dude concede several pounds to his rivals, and he himself carried 127 pounds in his second Hollywood Gold Cup victory. None of his four rivals were close to him when it came to weight that day. It may not have been the days of when horses like Round Table or Dr. Fager carried 130 pounds, but Game On Dude could yield a weight advantage and win. He did face small fields on more than one occasion, but he was still a tough horse, especially when he had the lead to himself. The Dude could use tactical speed when needed, but he loved controlling the pace like Native Diver used to do in his era.
After retirement, Game On Dude was taken to his new home, Old Friends Farm, in Kentucky. He stays there to this day with other popular horses who reside there. Those who go to Old Friends on a tour might at some point see him, and they will see greatness.
They will see a horse who got better as he got older.
They will see a horse who took his fans and connections on a terrific thrill ride in the early 2010's.
And they will see a horse who made himself unforgettable in the storied timeline of Southern California racing.