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Sep 21, 2012

Up the Backstretch: What have you done for me now

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor

(Sports Network) - All sports are "What have you done for me yesterday" industries. Even horse racing, where the horses can't be sent down to the minors or demoted to second string.

No, the changes that occur usually happen to the humans most involved with the races, trainers and jockeys.

In the rare atmosphere of championship thoroughbred racing, it's big news when changes are made without warning to trainers and riders. Such an unexpected announcement happened Tuesday with regards to top-rated runner Game On Dude.

Trainer Bob Baffert told The Blood-Horse that Rafael Bejarano will be riding Game On Dude, replacing Chantal Sutherland. Sutherland, the leading female jockey in North America, had been the gelding's regular jockey since July of last year.

"I am sad I have lost the opportunity to ride the "Dude"... I'm sure he will continue to be the champion I know him to be," tweeted Sutherland.

With Sutherland in the saddle, the 5-year-old thoroughbred posted wins in last year's Santa Anita and Goodwood Handicaps, and in 2012 won the San Antonio, Californian and Hollywood Gold Cup.

Apparently, three wins in five starts this year was not good enough for Baffert to retain Sutherland as Game On Dude's jockey. The gelding was caught yards before the wire on Aug. 26 by Dullahan in the Pacific Classic.

"Game On Dude ran a good race, the other horse just got us. Dullahan is a nice horse and he thrives on synthetics," Baffert noted after Game On Dude finished a half-length behind the 3-year-old.

Sutherland received criticism for her ride in the Classic when she lost the whip down the stretch.

"As I was switching my stick to the left hand, I pushed my rein loose. It was dangling at the end," the jockey explained. "It looked awful sloppy. I haven't done something like that in 13 years. But I don't think it affected anything. He was still doing what he could do. Just unfortunate."

How much the Pacific Classic ride comes into play for Baffert to make the change only he knows. Bejarano is his first call rider, but Sutherland has proven to be among the best in major stakes races.

The Canadian native was aboard Game On Dude 10 times, won five with three second-place finishes for more than $1.5 million in earnings. She made herself one of the top riders in North America and put Game On Dude first in the National Thoroughbred Poll.

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