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Redemption Finds Game On Dude in Historic Performance in Santa Anita Handicap

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How many times do you have to disappoint until people give up on you? Game On Dude proved that patience is virtue in a record-breaking win in the $750,000 Grade I Santa Anita Handicap.

Despite his repeated failures on the big stage, Game On Dude was a 6-5 favorite to win the 76th running of the Big 'Cap. It could be seen as a head scratcher.

We've seen Game On Dude come in second in the 2012 Grade I Pacific Classic in Del Mar in late August of last year. We've seen him come in 12th in the Grade I Dubai World Cup last year. There was the second place showing in the 2011 Breeders' Cup Classic where he couldn't withstand a late charge from Drosselmeyer.

But perhaps most emblazened in our memory was his last failing: after winning the Awesome Again Stakes in Santa Anita in September last year, he came in seventh in the 2012 Breeders' Cup Classic unable to make the charge in the final turn.

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It's almost like Barry Bonds trying to win the World Series to use a baseball simile since former Dodger manager Joe Torre is a co-owner. The only difference is you would probably get a warmer reception from the horse.

Unfortunately Torre wasn't in the house. "Joe Torre for some reason can never make the Big 'Cap," trainer Bob Baffert said.

It's too bad because Game On Dude showed why so many people have faith in him. In a record-breaking performance in front of a crowd of 26,901, the most since 2009, it was one of those transcendent wins that had you rooting for the horse through each pole.

"He knocked it out of the park," jockey Mike Smith said. "That was really impressive."

After the start, Game On Dude broke out to the lead and turned to the rail. He never looked back. There were a couple of times when Clubhouse Ride looked like he could make a challenge, but Game On Dude just turned on the throttle. He won by 7-3/4 lengths the largest margin of victory in the history of the Handicap. The previous margin had been six lengths by Bobby Brocato in 1956.

"Today he stamped himself as the superstar he is," trainer Bob Baffert said.

Interestingly enough, Baffert made a comparison between Torre and the horse in terms of their temperment. "If Joe Torre was a horse, he'd be Game On Dude." Perhaps that analogy is spot on. After years of toiling in baseball, Torre didn't win his first World Series until 1996, 36 years after his Major League debut. Maybe Game On Dude will finally win the Breeders' Cup Classic as a six-year old?

"That's a long ways off," Baffert said about the possibility of Game On Dude racing in his third Classic. "I'm going to see how he comes out of this. Dude will tell us how he's feeling."

2011 'Cap winner Game On Dude was the clear winner of the first ever matchup between former winners. Last year's winner Ron the Greek broke out of the gate

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Ron the Greek chased inside but was never able to make up the ground. He made a charge for fourth place just behind Clubhouse Ride and Called to Serve.

To a lesser extent the theme of redemption came up during the $250,000 Grade I Las Virgenes Stakes. The 4-5 favorite Beholder, winner of the 2012 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, was looking to atone for her loss in the Grade II Santa Ynez Stakes back in January where she was overtaken by Renee's Titan who was riding the rail. Even though Renee's Titan was in the race, this was essentially a two-horse race between Beholder and the 9-5 Fiftyshadesofhay.

"I was really surprised when she didn't run as well as I thought she was going to," Beholder jockey Garrett Gomez said of that race. It turned out Beholder had an ulcer in her throat that was discovered after the race.

There were no shenanigans this time around. Beholder led the entire race pulling away from Fiftyshadesofhay heading into the final turn as they finished 1-2, Beholder 3-3/4 lengths ahead. Scarlet Strike and Heir Kitty rounding out the superfecta.

"She's back," Gomez exclaimed.

Fiftyshadesofhay rider Rafael Bejarano could only throw his hands in the air. "She was too fast," he said. "It was a good second — no excuses."

For Beholder trainder Richard Mandella, the celebration comes more in the form of an exhale. "When you've got one this good it's just a relief to get the job done," Mandella said. There won't be much time for celebration though. The plans are for Beholder to run in the $300,000 Grade I Santa Anita Oaks, a 1-1/16 mile sprint on April 6.

The other graded stakes, the $300,000 Grade I Frank E. Kilroe Mile run on turf was won by 3-2 favorite Suggestive Boy of Argentina which paid out $5.00 for the win. The win gave trainer Ron McAnally his 700th career win at Santa Anita.

"I thought it was 700 for everywhere," McAnally joked.

The day was not all fun and games, however. Tragedy struck during Race 8, a seven-furlong sprint. The seven-year old gelding Truism was eased off in the final turn and collapsed in the final stretch. The van quickly whisked him off the track, however it was too late. Truism died of an apparent heart attack.