Every now and again, a horse will find its way to my top tier whose actual late odds appear appetizing enough to risk unauthorized amounts. My last successful application of that methodology involved Drosselmeyer who was trained by the wily William Mott and ridden by the propitious Mike Smith.
My first reaction to Santa Anita’s oddsmaker, Jon White’s, installing Game On Dude as the 8-5 morning-line favorite, is that he must have confused the Dude’s Classic competitors with the California-based creampuffs he usually devours.
Not that the Dude doesn’t deserve respect. Despite finishing out of the money in last year’s renewal as the 6-5 favorite, he is arguably more accomplished this year as the undefeated (five-for-five) winner of four Grade I stakes achieved in front-running fashion with excellent speed figures by anyone’s measure.
In doing so, Game On Dude became only the second horse to complete a sweep of the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup, and Pacific Classic.
Indeed, this could finally be the Dude’s year. A Classic victory would hightly likely anoint the durable gelding champion older horse and Horse of the Year honors as well.
So, then, what justification is there for challenging his credentials as established by those performances?
First, his competition has been suspect. He defeated runnerup Kettle Corn in his last two events and Clubhouse Ride as the in the previous three. Those horses were Grade II middle distance winners at best.
Secondly, there was no early serious pace pressure in those wire-to-wire wins. That will not be the case Saturday, not with Fort Larned, Mucho Macho Man and Moreno; all speedy types that have drawn inside the early line favorite.
Since Zenyatta’s victory in 2009, three consecutive Classic winners have come out of the Jockey Club Gold Cup. The Dude’s own preps came on “Super Saturday”, too, but at 9 furlongs, not 10.
But this time trainer Bob Baffert is bringing him back in nine weeks. While it should be noted that the Dude did win at the classic distance following a ten week layoff previously, it did require an all-out effort against lesser foes.
There are jockey switches to contemplate as well. Smith gave up the mount on Game On Dude for the Pacific Classic to honor a prior commitment on Royal Delta. Injury prevented Baffert’s first replacement choice, Joel Rosario, so he gave a leg up to Martin Garcia. A one-shot deal, Smith is back aboard on Saturday.
What was it about Garcia’s ride that convinced Baffert he’d be better off with Smith? Did that burst of speed and subsequent extension through the lane take too much out of the horse? What made Smith give up the mount on Palace Malice? Does he think the Dude is so superior? Was Todd Pletcher going to replace Smith with John Velasquez, anyway?
According to Trakus, when Ron The Greek hit the Gold Cup finish line, Palace Malice had already run farther than the winner given his wide trip. Perhaps Smith’s experience confirms the conventional wisdom that discounts the chances of three-year-olds against their elders here.
It may be worth mentioning that none of the last three Classic winners won their Gold Cups butthe winner of the previous two, Flat Out, returns again, this time without that “curse.”
The JCGC “curse” lands on Ron The Greek, whose runaway victory was reportedly aided by a rail bias. The result also has been subjected to further scrutiny by the race’s ground-crumbling start compromising several contenders, including stablemate Flat Out.
I had to laugh while reading the chart for that race which stated “the start was good for all but Cross Traffic,” but later commenting that “Palace Malice, one of only a few to get away unscathed at the break …” Four survivors from that race are entered here, as are two from the Awesome Again and two from the Pennsylvania Derby. Which event will prove the “key race?”
Last year’s Classic winner is returning off a victory in an ungraded stake at Churchill Downs. Fort Larned’s winning prep was little more than a paid workout.
That leaves two Europeans, which will have to endure quarantine prior to being acclimated to Santa Anita’s surroundings. One is a multiple World Cup also-ran. The other has five consecutive competitive Racing Post Ratings and victories on all-weather surfaces and turf. Either Declaration Of War and Planteur would prove to be an upset.
The following is the BC Classic field in morning-line odds-rank sequence [common last races are indicated via a combination of italics and underscores]:
w – denotes last start won
* - denotes favored last start
PP_ ODDS_ HORSE
_9 _ _8-5 w*GAME ON DUDE
_6 _ _5-1 w*MUCHO MACHO MAN
_7 _ _6-1 w*FORT LARNED
11 _ _8-1 w RON THE GREEK
_5 _ 10-1 w DECLARATION OF WAR
_8 _ 10-1 _ PALACE MALICE
12 _ 12-1 _*FLAT OUT
10 _ 12-1 w*WILL TAKE CHARGE
_2 _ 12-1 _ PAYNTER
_4 _ 15-1 _ MORENO
_3 _ 20-1 _ PLANTEUR
_1 _ 20-1 _ LAST GUNFIGHTER
I suspect White’s odds ranking but not necessarily the values. Clearly, White expects the crowd to prefer horses that have won their preps and those with victories over the host track.
I believe Ron The Greek is the closer most likely to prevail at Santa Anita if the early pace is contested as expected. Such a scenario would also enhance the chances of three-year-olds Will Take Charge and Palace Malice.
I doubt that Flat Out can outfinish all three but he should be in the mix. Mucho Macho Man must still prove he can pass a top horse in the stretch.
With such a competitive field, a single win bet is less a demonstration of confidence than a display of arrogance; and that is why the great gambling spirit in the sky gave us the superfecta. My primary play will use the closers I prefer on top:
11,10,8 // 11,10,8,12,6,7,9 // 11,10,8,12,6,7,9 // 11,10,8,12,6,7,9 (3x6x5x4)
My other assumes the Dude outlasts the speed and holds off the closers:
9 // 11,10,8,6 //11,10,8,6,12 // ALL (1x4x4x9)
Finally, I’ll save with exacta boxes using the three-year-olds. May the best horse win and all horses return safely.