Old Dude is still game in the Big 'Cap

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Game On Dude, Mike Smith

Game On Dude and jockey Mike Smith win the Santa Anita Handicap on Saturday. (Benoit Photo / Associated Press / March 8, 2014)

"If you have an electrical problem," Schiappa said, "you hire an electrician. If you want to win a horse race, you hire Bob Baffert."

Had Game On Dude not performed well, the expectation was that he might be retired. Now, the expectation is that he will be in the mix again, probably in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar and even a race before that, and also likely in the Breeders' Cup, which is at Santa Anita in early November again.

It was a day of several milestones. The on-track betting handle increased 11%, from $3,347,152 last year to $3,716,513. The overall handle — all sites — went up 23%, from $18.415 million last year to $22.589 million this year.

Also, Game On Dude set a Big 'Cap record for 1 1/4 miles at 1:58.17. That broke Affirmed's 1.58 3/5 in 1979, the days of fractions.

Smith laughed that he had been yelled at for going too fast in the Feb. 8 San Antonio Stakes, at 1 1/8 miles, when he led aboard Game On Dude with a 46.1 half-mile and faded to fifth place.

"We went forty-five today," he said, "and that's at a mile and a quarter."

Baffert said when Schiappa saw the 22.4 for the quarter mile and then the 45.39, he said, "Oh, no." But it wasn't a problem Saturday.

"The Dude was not going to give up today," Baffert said.

He said he watched his horse down the home stretch "in awe," and said, "From the eighth pole, I just took it all in and became a fan."

Game On Dude, off as the third favorite, paid $9.60, $3.60 and $3.60. Will Take Charge cruised home nearly two lengths back in second and Blingo outran Mucho Macho Man to the wire for third and paid $22.80.

Somewhat lost in the shuffle of the day was the impressive win by an impressive horse, 3-year-old California Chrome. The Art Sherman-trained horse, who does his work at Los Alamitos, won the $300,000 Grade I San Felipe by 7 1/4 lengths and in doing so, picked up 50 valuable Kentucky Derby entry points.

That seems to set up a classic Santa Sanita Derby matchup between California Chrome and John Sadler's Candy Boy, winner of the Grade II Lewis Stakes.

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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