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Feb 09, 2012

Game On Dude and Ultimate Eagle likely for Big 'Cap


Arcadia, CA (Sports Network) - This past weekend's stakes races at Santa Anita Park for older thoroughbreds gave early incite into the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic set for November at the southern California facility. However, next month's Santa Anita Handicap could prove an even better indicator.

Trainer Bob Baffert sent out five-year-old horse Game On Dude to convincingly win the San Antonio Handicap on Sunday. Despite a poor start, the veteran racehorse registered a 5 1/4-length win as the 3-10 favorite versus four rivals.

"He ran hard. He'd been training really well," noted Baffert following the Sunday event. "We knew he was up for a big race.

"I think Chantal (winning jockey Chantal Sutherland) did a great job not panicking when he didn't break. She got him running. They were going pretty rapid up front, but this horse, once you get him in a high cruising speed, he's so dangerous. If you grab a hold of him, he's not effective at all."

Co-owned by Joe Torre, Game On Dude is a speed horse who has proven he can cover a distance of ground. He was a solid second in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic behind 17-1 longshot Drosselmeyer.

Game On Dude won last year's Santa Anita Handicap and could very easily remain home for the race or go to the Dubai World Cup on March 31.

"A lot has to do with what kind of weight we get and all that stuff. Last year he got in really light (115 pounds)," Baffert said about Big 'Cap weight assignments. "We're just going to enjoy it right now. He's nominated to Dubai, but the thing about Dubai is it's getting more and more difficult for American horses to win there because of the new track layout and the synthetic, you don't know what to expect. We can think about. It's an option, so we're going to leave all options open for now."

Another strong contender for the Big 'Cap is Ultimate Eagle fresh off a win in Saturday's Strub Stakes for four-year-olds. The colt, trained by Mike Pender, went off at 7-1 and defeated Baffert's horse Jaycito by 7 1/4-lengths.

"It (my confidence in the horse) was unwavering and he just went out there and proved what I thought he could do all along. We did take the heart right out of (4-5 favorite) Tapizar, which I thought he (Ultimate Eagle) would.

"This is a special horse and people have to start realizing it. Just because he wins on the turf, it doesn't mean that he can't do it anywhere else."

Ultimate Eagle was making his first career start on a real dirt surface. He has five starts on turf with three earlier races on synthetic tracks. Last year he won both the Oak Tree and Hollywood Derbies.

Pender will not commit to the Big 'Cap, but is more than happy with anything his charge accomplishes.

"We'll cross that bridge when we get to it," Pender said about the Big 'Cap, "but we're just so pleased with the horse. It took so much to get to this point, with the near-death experience (colic in his three-year-old year). It's just an unbelievable miracle that we're here today."

Solid victories by Game On Dude and Ultimate Eagle give a nice foundation for this year's handicap division.

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