In front of an on-track crowd that included part owner Joe Torre, the 5-year-old Awesome Again gelding took command from the outset in the Grade II and rolled to a 7 ¼ length win over Kettle Corn and two others.
Defeated by 20 ½ lengths when 12th in the $10 million Dubai World Cup when last seen March 31 at Meydan Race Course, Game On Dude stamped himself the one to defeat in the $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup July 7. He lost by a nose to stablemate First Dude in the 2011 renewal of the Grade I.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert for a partnership that also includes the Lanni Family Trust, Ernie Moody’s Mercedes Stable LLC and Bernie Schiappa, Game On Dude, the even-money favorite, won for the seventh time in 17 starts. He increased his bankroll to $2,344,658.
Ridden by Chantal Sutherland, who has been aboard the Kentucky bred in four of his wins, Game On Dude ran the 1 1/8 miles over Cushion Track in 1:48.01. The clocking was the fastest in the Californian since Heatseeker went 1:47.06 in 2008.
In winning for the first time in four starts over a synthetic surface, Game On Dude, who is out of the Devil His Due mare Worldly Pleasure, paid $4 and $2.40. There was no show wagering after the scratch of Uh Oh Bango.
The runaway leading trainer through the first 24 days of the meet with 19 victories, Baffert, the defending Spring/Summer champion, also has a season high seven stakes wins.
“He was quick out of there,’’ said Sutherland, who also won the day’s final race with Luckyvic. “(Baffert) said to get him in the race. (Morning Line) got a little close to him early and he got aggressive.
“On the backside, I didn’t move a muscle. I don’t even know if I breathed. He was just like on go. He relaxed sweet and the he just took off.
“He made me look like a champion. It’s so much fun to ride a horse like that, I can’t tell you. It’s just like unbelievable, the power and so much endurance. Bob said in the paddock he might be a little short. If that’s Bob’s short, what the heck.’’
Torre, the former major league baseball star and manager, of among others, the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers, said he almost made the trip to Dubai for the World Cup, but couldn’t because of a baseball commitment.
“I wanted to go,’’ he said. “Dubai is interesting. In a way it was disappointing, but in another way it was great that (Baffert) came home and recovered (from his heart attack) the way he did. That’s the most important thing. There’s always another race.’’
Kettle Corn, making his second start of 2012 after completing 4-year-old campaign with a victory in the Grade III Native Diver Handicap last Dec. 3 at Betfair Hollywood Park, gained second by a half-length over the Baffert-trained Prayer for Relief. Kettle Corn paid $3.20 to place.
Morning Line, the 5-2 second choice on the strength of a gate-to-wire score in the Grade II Mervyn LeRoy Handicap in his Cushion Track debut May 5, trailed. The 5-year-old pressed the pace for the first six furlongs before weakening under jockey Joe Talamo. He wound up 16 lengths behind the winner.
Jockey Jose Valdivia, Jr. had his second two win day of the Spring/Summer meet, taking the third with Trapper’s Bounty and the sixth with 24-1 shot A KissForarose. Valdiviai also had a double April 29.
Racing resumes Sunday. Post time is 1 p.m. Track gates open at 9:55 a.m. for simulcasts.
The feature attraction is the $100,000 Affirmed Handicap, a Grade III for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles.
Baffert, who has won the Affirmed thrice, is scheduled to send out 2011 CashCall Futurity winner Liaison and Gun Boat against Nonios, Holy Candy, Blingo and Unusual Heatwave. Harry Henson Stakes winner and Lazaro Barrera Memorial runner-up American Act was scratched Saturday morning.