GAME ON DUDE WORKING WELL FOR RETURN IN SUNDAY’S SAN ANTONIO

Game On Dude, gritty nose winner of last year’s Santa Anita Handicap and game runner-up to Drosselmeyer in the Breeders’ Cup Classic last Nov. 5, is scheduled to make his 2012 debut in next Sunday’s Grade II, $200,000 San Antonio Stakes at 1 1/8 miles.

The San Antonio is a major steppingstone to this year’s Grade I, $750,000 Big ‘Cap on March 3.

Game on Dude worked six furlongs in company with stable mate Tweebster on Friday in a bullet 1:11 flat with Martin Garcia up. “Dude’s” was the fastest of 26 drills at the distance.

“He’s working really well,” Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said of the 5-year-old gelded son of

Awesome Again. “What else is there to say?”

Baffert generally works Game On Dude in company with another horse. “He’s been working off the pace,” Baffert said. “His game is speed, but he’s not speed crazy. He’s not a horse that’s going to go out there and go 21 and change the first quarter. He just has to be engaged with the leader.”

A finalist in last year’s Eclipse Award voting for outstanding Older Male, Game On Dude has a 5-4-1 record form 14 starts. The Kentucky-bred has earned $2,134,658.

Prayer for Relief, nominated to both the San Antonio and Saturday’s Strub Stakes by Baffert, worked five furlongs on Santa Anita’s main track Sunday in a bullet 58.60, fastest of 58 drills at the distance, the average time of which was 1:01.34.


ROUSING SERMON DRILLS FOR ROBERT B. LEWIS STAKES

California-bred Rousing Sermon, beaten only a neck by Liaison despite rallying six wide in the Grade I CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park on Dec. 17, worked four furlongs Sunday in 47.40 for next Saturday’s Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles.

“He went real nice, so we’re all ready to go,” Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said.

The Lewis, with a purse of $200,000, is a major steppingstone to the Grade I, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby at 1 1/8 miles on April 7.

Also expected for the Lewis are two Bob Baffert trainees, the aforementioned Liaison and Sky Kingdom, a son of Empire Maker who was fourth in the CashCall, and Norfolk Stakes winner Creative Cause, who is trained by Mike Harrington and will be ridden by Joel Rosario.

Joe Talamo, who was aboard Rousing Sermon in the CashCall, rides again in the Lewis.


‘FREE-RUNNING’ TAPIZAR TRIES NINE FURLONG STRUB STAKES

Tapizar finished fifth in his lone race at 1 1/8 miles, last year’s Robert Lewis Stakes. The rousing, front-running winner of the Grade II San Fernando Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on Jan. 14 will try the nine-furlong distance again in next Saturday’s Grade II, $200,000 Strub Stakes, and Team Asmussen is confident the son of Tapit is up to the assignment.

“The horse is doing good,” said Asmussen assistant Scott Blasi. “I haven’t seen the PP’s (past performances of the Strub), but he’s a free-running horse and (Corey) Nakatani did a great job with him (in the San Fernando), so we’ll see what happens.”

Balladry, second by 3 ½ lengths to Tapizar in the San Fernando, is set to take him on again in the Strub. Joe Talamo retains the mount for trainer Eoin Harty.


HEADLEY TRIES NEW SURFACE FOR M ONE RIFLE IN ARCADIA ON TURF

In 18 career starts, M One Rifle has never raced on grass and never raced beyond seven furlongs. That will end Saturday when the 6-year-old California-bred gelding runs in the Grade II Arcadia Stakes at one mile on turf.

“All of the races his sire (One Man Army) won were on the grass,” said trainer Bruce Headley in explaining his decision. “Plus, his body’s lengthened out now, and that’s why he’s lost his speed. The way he’s acting, how he looks and because of his pedigree are reasons we decided to try the Arcadia.”

M One Rifle, winner of the Grade I Malibu Stakes at seven furlongs in 2009, finished fifth in his most recent outing, the Grade II Palos Verdes Stakes at six furlongs on the main track on Jan. 21. Joe Talamo rides M One Rifle in the Arcadia. Also set for the race are Mr. Commons with Mike Smith and Pathfork with Joel Rosario.


SPRINT CHAMP AMAZOMBIE DRILLS FOR FEB. 25 SAN CARLOS STAKES

Eclipse Award sprint champion Amazombie, scheduled to make his 2012 debut in the Grade II San Carlos Stakes at seven furlongs on Feb. 25, worked four furlongs in the dark on Santa Anita’s fast main track Sunday morning in 48.40.

“It was a little faster than we wanted,” trainer Bill Spawr said, “but he did it so easy. My exercise rider (Javier Mesa) got off and he says, ‘Bill, he’s just galloping,’ is all he said. Javier is on Amazombie (for his gallops and works) 90 percent of the time.”


FAVORED RUMOR, SIXTH IN GRADE I SANTA MONICA STAKES, ON MEND

Rumor, fresh off a rousing win in the Jan. 1 Kalookan Queen Handicap at 6 ½ furlongs, finished a non-threatening sixth with Mike Smith as the 2-1 favorite in Saturday’s Grade I Santa Monica Stakes and may well have had a tangible excuse for the poor showing, as she bled in the race according to Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella.

Daily Racing Form’s chart comments read: “Rumor dueled between horses outside the winner (Home Sweet Aspen), dropped back between foes into the stretch and weakened.” Rumor, who was in search of her third consecutive win, finished some eight lengths behind the winner.

“She bled a little bit on me and that’s the first time she’s done that,” Mandella said Sunday morning of Rumor, a 4-year-old daughter of Indian Charlie. “We’ll give her some time.”


CRITICS OFFER BEST OF ‘LUCK’ ON HBO PREMIERE TONIGHT

HBO’s much-anticipated horse racing-themed series, LUCK, filmed largely at Santa Anita, premieres tonight at 9 p.m. to favorable reviews such as the following excerpt from Los Angeles Times Television Critic Mary McNamara:

“Virtually every episode of ‘LUCK’ has moments of rapture, some created by the adrenaline rush of the races (which have never looked better), many emerging from moments of good writing, fine direction and even better acting.”

And this from Tim Layden in the Jan. 30 editions of Sports Illustrated:

“The cinematic racetrack is almost always a place where beautiful people do beautiful things beautifully (most recently in Seabiscuit and Secretariat), where all the mornings are dewy and sun-splashed and dreams come true at post time.

“There is usually just the faintest nod to the dark underbelly of the racing world when, in reality, the prevailing emotion at any racetrack on any day is desperation . . . LUCK creator David Milch (Deadwood), a longtime horse player, does not sugarcoat this reality; he embraces it . . . Milch walks a tightrope between theatrical drama and racing drama, but it’s compelling either way.”


FINISH LINES: Caracortado, scratched from Saturday’s Sensational Star Stakes due to a minor burn on the bottom of the frog on his right front foot, is recovering and will be pointed to the Grade I Kilroe Mile on turf on March 3. “Maybe after that we’ll look at the San Simeon Handicap at the end of the meet,” trainer Mike Machowsky said. “The plan is to keep him in California this year and hopefully get to the Breeders’ Cup (at Santa Anita on Nov. 2 and 3),” Machowsky said. The San Simeon at about 6 ½ furlongs on turf will be decided a day before the meet ends, on April 21 . . . Rumor, sixth as the 2-1 favorite in yesterday’s Grade I Santa Monica Stakes, had an excuse for the disappointing performance, the first time in eight career starts she finished worse than second . . . Jim Cassidy said he will pass Saturday’s Arcadia Stakes with The Usual Q.T. in favor of the Grade II San Marcos Stakes at 1 ¼ miles on turf Feb. 11. “It gives me another week,” said the trainer, who saddled The Usual Q.T. to a third-place finish behind Norvsky and Jeranimo in the San Gabriel Stakes on Jan. 16 . . . Bourbon Bay, a multiple winner of marathon turf stakes, worked six furlongs on Santa Anita’s firm turf course Sunday in 1:15 (dogs up). Trainer Neil Drysdale has Bourbon Bay ticketed for the San Marcos . . . There were 11 contestants alive in ShowVivor going into Sunday’s races . . . Saturday’s lone winning Single High Five payoff of $127,440 on Santa Anita’s 10th race was purchased at the hub in Lewiston, Maine.