The 2013 Hollywood Gold Cup
July 6, 2013. It was a memorable day for California racing for both good and bittersweet reasons. As Hollywood Park was winding down its 75th anniversary season, it was once again time for the track's biggest event: The Hollywood Gold Cup.
Since 1938, when Seabiscuit won the inauguaral race, the Hollywood Gold Cup had transformed into one of the sport's premier Grade I events. The list of winners contained a plethora of legendary horses: Noor, Citation, Swaps, Round Table, Native Diver, Ack Ack, Affirmed, and Lava Man were just a small sampling of the great Thoroughbreds whose names were etched on the Gold Cup winners wall in back of the grandstand. To be victorious in the Gold Cup was to not only win a race at legendary Hollywood Park, but to also become a part of California racing history. It was a race everyone wanted to win.
Despite the fact that the Gold Cup program was Hollywood Park's biggest day of the meet, there was a somber tone to the festivities. Just a couple of months earlier, the news many had feared for years had finally been announced: Hollywood Park would close down after its 2013 autumn meet. That meant that after the summer meet, there would be no more Hollywood Gold Cups at the Track of the Lakes and Flowers. Therefore, this was among the most historic renewals of the race, and it had not even been run yet.
The lineup consisted of five horses, and the leader of the group was Game On Dude, the defending champion of the Gold Cup who was trained by Bob Baffert. No stranger to history, Game On Dude had made news earlier in the year when he became only the fourth horse to win the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap. Now, he was out to make it a double in Inglewood, and a rare feat was on the line: if Game On Dude repeated, he would join Native Diver and Lava Man as the only horses to win multiple Gold Cups. In a way, it seemed only fitting that this storyline was taking place. Hollywood Park, long known as the Home of Champions and a bastion of racing history, seemed to be ready to take center stage one more time before the final spring/summer meeting concluded.
Joining Game On Dude in the starting gate were Clubhouse Ride, Kettle Corn, Oilisblackgold, and Sky Kingdom. Except for Clubhouse Ride, no one else was close in the wagering to Game On Dude, who was sent off at odds-on. When the gates opened, each horse broke well, and Game On Dude immediately went to the front. He established a clear lead in the opening seconds of the race, while Sky Kingdom moved up to second on the outside. The field was close together going into the first turn, and Game On Dude was in charge of the pace. He looked as if he was just taking a stroll on the racetrack, not bothered by anything. He seemed to be moving faster than he actually was, putting together pedestrian fractions as the backstretch run began.
With Game On Dude dictating the pace, Sky Kingdom and Clubhouse Ride battled for second. All of the horses were still close together, but no one was challenging the leader as he entered the far turn. The Gold Cup was more than half over, and Game On Dude was just a couple of furlongs from what undoubtedly would be one of his biggest victories.
Behind him, Clubhouse Ride, Oilisblackgold, and Sky Kingdom tried to keep up, their jockeys asking for more. Behind them, Kettle Corn made a dynamic charge along the rail, ready to run and ready to battle Game On Dude. By the time the field straightened into the stretch, the race was down to them. Game On Dude and Mike Smith were on the inside, Kettle Corn and Rafael Bejarano on the outside. The Hollywood Park crowd began cheering. With each stride, Kettle Corn was game, but so was Game On Dude. Both horses were showing resolve, earning respect for their efforts. They cleared the other rivals, and either Game On Dude would join rare company, or an upset courtesy of Kettle Corn would foil those plans and reward his backers with a nice payday thanks to his longshot status.
Both horses were urged in the final sixteenth, but Game On Dude was just too good. Kettle Corn could not catch him. Second place would be as far as he could get. Game On Dude reached the wire well in front, putting together a slow pace for 1 1/4 miles and firmly staying in control. When he reached the finish, he ensured he would be mentioned in the same conversation as Native Diver and Lava Man. He was now a two-time Hollywood Gold Cup champion, and it seemed only appropriate the moment would happen during the last Gold Cup to be run at the Track of the Lakes and Flowers.
Game On Dude won the race carrying 127 pounds, and the fact he won with such a high amount of weight made Game On Dude a throwback in the handicap division. Seeing horses carry weight like Game On Dude did made one think of the old days of racing, when leading handicap horses had imposts of that nature while giving up weight to his opponents in an effort to develop a level playing field. The winner also became one of the few equines to sweep both the Santa Anita Handicap and Hollywood Gold Cup in the same year, adding a little more history to the moment.
Game On Dude, simply put, continued to confirm his place in California racing history by successfully defending his title.
With the day winding down at Hollywood Park, and only a few months before it would stop hosting racing, the track managed to produce one more moment of star power, one more moment of history. On that Saturday in 2013, Hollywood Park added to its glorious legacy in its biggest race.