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Game On Dude tops seven-horse field in $1.5 million Charles Town Classic

Game On Dude took a stroll around the barn when he arrived at Charles Town on Tuesday (Charles Town/Coady Photography)

Seven hours and 2,700 miles after starting his day in southern California, two-time Santa Anita Handicap winner Game On Dude was comfortably bedded down in his stall at Charles Town on Tuesday as he awaits his next start in Saturday's Grade 2, $1.5 million Charles Town Classic.

The Bob Baffert trainee boarded a Tex Sutton flight in Ontario, California, at 8 a.m. (EDT) that made a stop in Lexington, Kentucky, before touching down in Martinsburg, West Virginia, a little after 1:30 p.m.

Accompanied by Baffert's assistant Jim Barnes, the six-year-old gelding was joined on the Ontario to Lexington leg of his journey by several of his stablemates, including Kentucky Derby hopeful Governor Charlie and Midnight Lucky, who is expected to compete in the Kentucky Oaks on Friday of Derby weekend.

After their brief stopover, joining Game On Dude in continuing on to Charles Town were Big 'Cap runner-up Clubhouse Ride and Grade 1 winner Book Review, who will start for Baffert on Saturday in the $200,000 Sugar Maple. Much like Game On Dude, Book Review will be making her second appearance at Charles Town, having won the Charles Town Oaks in September 2012.

With his devastating 7 3/4-length victory last month in the historic Big 'Cap, Game On Dude served notice that at age six he remains one of the top racehorses in the country.

The California-based son of Awesome Again will face six others on Saturday, including multiple Grade 1 winner Ron the Greek and defending champion Caixa Eletronica, in the fifth running of the 1 1/8-mile Charles Town Classic, which boasts a purse surpassed in this country only by the Kentucky Derby and the races of the Breeders' Cup.

The Classic purse was increased from $1 million to $1.5 million for 2013, and Baffert couldn't wait to take another shot at the race. Game On Dude finished second to Duke of Mischief in the 2011 edition on a rainy night over a sloppy track. Since then, he has won eight graded stakes.

Half of those eight were Grade 1 scores by Game On Dude, who is owned by Hall of Fame baseball player and manager Joe Torre in partnership with several others.

"He's doing great; he's happy," Baffert said earlier this week. "He worked (Sunday) very well -- five-eighths in :59 3/5. He's really sharp right now. This is the second time we've been there. It's $1.5 million race, and it's easier to get there than Dubai (for the World Cup)."

After the victory in the Big 'Cap, Baffert said he was shopping for another big race for Game On Dude. Choosing the Charles Town Classic over last Saturday's Oaklawn Handicap was not that difficult.

"When you put up $1.5 million, it's like the Breeders' Cup," Baffert said.

Another Hall of Famer, jockey Mike Smith, will be in to ride Game On Dude for the fourth straight time. The Classic, however, will be Smith's first outing on the horse on a six-furlong oval.

"I asked Mike, 'Do you want to ride the bull ring?'" Baffert said. "He said, 'Hell, yeah! I grew up on bull rings, and I can still do it.'"

Game On Dude's forte is speed, and he likely will be on or near the lead. Defending Classic winner Caixa Eletronica, however, is as versatile as any horse in the country and could be anywhere in the race, making the pace or playing the closer.

Once largely known as a hard-knocking older sprint specialist, the eight-year-old son of former West Virginia-based stallion Arromanches pulled off a shocker last year by crushing a strong Classic field by three lengths.

Going from one-turn sprint victories to a three-turn tour de force in a $1 million race is not an everyday occurrence. Yet, Caixa Eletronica is not an everyday horse.

Claimed by trainer Todd Pletcher for New York owner Mike Repole in 2011, Caixa Eletronica has since won eight races and competed in some of the most prestigious stakes in the country, including the Cigar Mile, Met Mile, Forego and Vosburgh.

"As soon as I bought him, it took a couple starts to realize I was so blessed to have a horse like this," said Repole, who won last Saturday's Arkansas Derby with the Pletcher-trained Overanalyze and also campaigned the brilliant Uncle Mo.

"When those horses run -- Uncle Mo, Overanalyze -- there is a pressure that, growing up, I never thought there would be in racing. But with Caixa, it's just fun! Whether he comes in fourth or whatever. Even though he's not a gelding, I treat him like he is. He doesn't have the greatest pedigree in the world, but he's won at six furlongs, a mile and an eighth, with 130 pounds on him. He defies logic. He's a throwback. Any time a horse can win from a distance of six to a mile and an eighth in a graded stakes and not miss a beat, you have to be a fan of that horse."

Pletcher, like Repole, is wowed by what Caixa Eletronica has accomplished, and he has pointed him toward the Classic since last year.

"He's a barn favorite, and you have to love his competitiveness under different scenarios," Pletcher remarked. "He would give you everything he has, whether he's running two furlongs or two miles. The Classic has been in the back of our mind since we won it last year. We freshened him with this in mind since last winter. We'll give him a chance to defend his title against arguably the best horse in training."

Pletcher will have more than the defending winner in tow; he also will send out the up-and-coming four-year-old Mordi's Miracle, a recent second in the Excelsior Handicap at Aqueduct, as well as five-year-old gelding Percussion, a sharp winner of two straight allowance races at the same track who will be making his stakes bow in the Charles Town Classic.

Another Hall of Fame trainer, Bill Mott, will send out Ron the Greek, who has victories in last year's Big 'Cap and Stephen Foster Handicap on his resume.

Twice last year, Ron the Greek was defeated in battles with Breeders' Cup Classic winner Fort Larned, but also managed to deal eventual Horse of the Year Wise Dan his lone defeat in the aforementioned Stephen Foster. He finished his year closing fast for a fourth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic and returned in 2013 with a brilliant 11 1/4-length score in the Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park.

In his most recent start, Ron the Greek suffered a wide trip and finished fourth to Game On Dude in the Santa Anita Handicap.

In the Big 'Cap, Clubhouse Ride stamped himself as a potentially serious player in the older horse division this year, finishing second at odds of 27-1. The Charles Town Classic contender, a five-year-old son of Candy Ride, also finished second behind Game On Dude at long odds in the San Antonio in February at Santa Anita.

"He always was a very promising horse," trainer Craig Lewis noted. "He was on the Derby trail as a three-year-old and ran second in the Sham Stakes to a horse (Tapizar) that won the (2012) Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. He got ankle and shoulder injuries and had to get his confidence back."

Clubhouse Ride has only won three of 26 starts, but he has faced some of the best horses in California, including Comma to the Top and Ultimate Eagle. Lewis likes the fact that he ran well in a stakes race at Fairplex, a short track like Charles Town.

"It was very impressive," Lewis said of the third-place finish last September in the Governor's Cup Handicap. "He had a lot of trouble at the break and made a tremendous move and sustained it. He seems to handle everything we can do with him. The question is, are these horses going to be better than him. Game On Dude is obviously a monster, but we don't have to win. If we run second, that's a pretty monster payday."

Top jockey Garrett Gomez will be aboard Clubhouse Ride for the Classic.

Completing the field is multiple stakes-placed five-year-old Isn't He Perfect, most recently third in the Excelsior for trainer Edward Lotruglio.

One race before the Classic, Book Review heads a field of seven distaffers in the seven-furlong Sugar Maple. The chestnut daughter of Giant's Causeway closed out her sophomore season with a neck win in the La Brea on December 26, and in two starts since has run second in the La Canada and Santa Maria.

There are four other stakes scheduled for the evening, beginning with the $50,000 Confucius Say sending six West Virginia-bred runners seven furlongs. Lucy's Bob Boy is the highlight of that contest having racked up a 10-3-0 mark from 13 career starts thus far. Next up will be the $85,000 Robert Hilton Memorial, featuring an open field of seven going seven furlongs.

The $50,000 Original Gold is also scheduled for seven furlongs and drew a group of nine West Virginia-bred distaffers, while the $50,000 Charles Town Dash will see an open field of 10, including Immortal Eyes who is going for a four-peat, sprint 4 1/2 furlongs.

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