The $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup July 6 is all about Game On Dude, who goes for a repeat victory against just four opponents in the West Coast classic's final renewal at Betfair Hollywood Park.
Game On Dude will carry a career-high impost of 127 pounds in the 1 ¼-mile Gold Cup, to be contested for the 74th time. That doesn't seem likely to stop the four-time Grade 1 winner in a race Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith should be able to dictate from the start.
That's what happened last year when Game On Dude disposed of outsider Spud Spivens after a half mile and cruised to a 1 ½-length triumph over his Bob Baffert-trained stablemate Richard's Kid as the 2-5 favorite.
The victory made Chantal Sutherland the first female jockey to win the Gold Cup. It also gave Baffert the distinction of saddling the first two finishers in consecutive Gold Cups. He also trained 2011 winner First Dude, who nosed out Game On Dude in a tremendous finish.
Baffert, a four-time winner of the Gold Cup, trains 6-year-old Game On Dude for a partnership that includes Joe Torre's Diamond Pride, Lanni Family Trust, Ernie Moody's Mercedes Stable, and Bernie Schiappa. With a victory, Game On Dude would join Native Diver and Lava Man as a multiple Gold Cup winner. Native Diver (1965-67) and Lava Man (2005-07) each won three times.
Torre is expected to attended the Gold Cup.
If all start, this will not be the smallest Gold Cup field in history. Just four contested the 1999 renewal won by Real Quiet.
This year's Gold Cup will be heavy on sentimentality as Hollywood Park approaches the end of its spring/summer season. When the track completes its autumn stand in December, the "Track of Lakes and Flowers" is set to close for good. It is scheduled for demolishment next year to make way for condominiums and commercial development. There has been discussions about moving the Gold Cup and several other stakes fixtures to Santa Anita Park, which will be running Hollywood's dates next year, but no official decision has been made.
The Gold Cup is the ninth race with a 5 p.m. PDT scheduled post. A supporting feature, the $150,000 Royal Heroine Mile, is race 5. During the afternoon, Laffit Pincay, Jr., a nine-time Gold Cup winner, will present the 10th annual award named in his honor to fellow Hall of Fame jockey Eddie Delahoussaye.
Game On Dude has maintained a light schedule this year for Baffert, who wants to have the Awesome Again gelding fresh for this fall's Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita. Game On Dude is three-for-three in 2013, but he has just one start since capturing the Santa Anita Handicap March 2. That came in a half-length triumph over Gold Cup rival Clubhouse Ride in the $1.5 million Charles Town Classic April 20.
He has had eight published workouts over the Santa Anita main track since May 11. Following his most recent, a half-mile drill in :47 4/5 July 1, Baffert tweeted, "Game On Dude ready to rock n roll. Worked great today."
Were he to win under 127 pounds, he would be shouldering the most weight by a Gold Cup winner since Perrault carried the same in 1982 to defeat Erins Isle and It's The One. The last winner to carry more than that was Affirmed, who toted 132 in defeating Sirlad in 1979. Game On Dude carried 124 last year.
Game On Dude has no apparent pace rival in this year's contest so the other four figure to chase and hope the heavy favorite falters over Hollywood's Cushion Track, where he has won three of four starts. The big, dark bay is to break from post 2. Game On Dude enters having won four in a row, all with Smith aboard, since running seventh in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic.
His career mark stands at 13-5-1 in 25 races with earnings of $4,702,158. A victory in the Gold Cup would push Game On Dude's career bankroll over $5 million.
Baffert has a chance to saddle the first two finishers again this year as he entered Sky Kingdom for Westrock Stables. A 4-year-old son of Empire Maker, Sky Kingdom has won four of 10 starts and earned $233,980. His initial win occurred Nov. 24, 2011 in his Cushion Track debut prior to a fourth-place finish in the CashCall Futurity.
Sky Kingdom has been idle since trailing as the 13-10 favorite in his first start on turf in the San Juan Capistrano Handicap April 21.
Clubhouse Ride captured the Californian June 1 over the Cushion Track impressively by 2 ¼ lengths, ending a streak of five runner-up finishes in a row. The last three of those second-place efforts came against Game On Dude. In the Charles Town Classic, the 5-year-old son of Candy Ride gained with determination through the short stretch to draw close to his nemesis while nosing Grade 1 winner Ron the Greek for second.
Craig Lewis, who won the 1988 Gold Cup with Cutlass Reality, trains Clubhouse Ride for Six-S Racing Stable and Nikolas Petralia. Joe Talamo is aboard from the rail. They carry 119 pounds.
Kettle Corn, third in the 2012 Gold Cup, will be seeking his first win as a 6-year-old for Lee and Susan Searing's C R K Stable and trainer John Sadler. The son of Candy Ride was second in the Mervyn LeRoy before checking in fourth in the Californian. Rafael Bejarano has the call on Kettle Corn, who adds blinkers for the Gold Cup.
Oilisblackgold, who is without a stakes win, was third in the Californian, 4 ½ lengths behind Clubhouse Ride. The 6-year-old Tapit gelding is owned by Class Racing Stable and trained by Craig Dollase, who won the 2010 Gold Cup with Awesome Gem.