Game On Dude was the main attraction Sunday night when he won the Pacific Classic by 8 1/2 lengths (Photos courtesy Eclipse Sportswire).
With the help of some good racing luck over the course of the next 2 ½ months, NBC would be wise to dust off one of its old slogans.
The Breeders’ Cup just might be must-see TV.
This past weekend showed just how spectacular the Breeders’ Cup could turn out to be, and in the next few weeks even more equine stars will get their chance to prove themselves worthy of a Hollywood spotlight.
The star of a huge weekend was, of course, Game On Dude, who was nothing shy of awesome in the Pacific Classic. A winner by 8 ½ lopsided lengths in the $1 million Grade 1 stakes at Del Mar, Game On Dude elevated himself into the No. 1 spot in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association poll and at this point Horse of the Year honors are his to win or lose.
The Breeders’ Cup Classic hasn’t been kind to Game On Dude with seventh-place and runner-up finishes in the last two editions, but the Pacific Classic illustrated this is not your dad’s Dude. Second and fourth in the two previous editions of Del Mar’s centerpiece race, Game On Dude looked every bit a champion as he grabbed the early lead and then pulled away with consummate ease in the stretch from 11 overmatched rivals.
Given what happened Sunday, and in Game On Dude’s other four other races – and victories – this year, he promises to be the main attraction when the curtain goes up on the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita Park in California on Nov. 1 and 2.
But he will not be alone in the spotlight.
A few hours before the Pacific Classic, another potential champion put on a dazzling show on a stage that had also been unfriendly in the past. A year ago, Royal Delta finished second in the Personal Ensign Handicap at Saratoga. But on Sunday she turned in one of her best performances, taking the Personal Ensign by 4 ½ lengths in an effort that underscored her status as the best older female in the country and a likely recipient of a third-straight Eclipse Award.
ROYAL DELTA PUT IN ANOTHER SPECTACULAR PERFORMANCE IN THE PERSONAL ENSIGN
At this point it’s merely a daydream to envision a Game On Dude vs. Royal Delta clash in the BC Classic. Yet even if she stays in her division, the prospect of her taking aim at a third-straight win in the BC Distaff makes for a rather compelling closing act to the Friday Nov. 1 BC races.
A day earlier, the focus of attention was the Travers, which produced a thrilling finish when the first four horses under the wire were separated by less than length.
Runner-up Moreno showed his class as he was passed in the stretch but then battled back to lose by a nose to Will Take Charge in the very last stride.
THE TOP FOUR FINISHERS MADE THE TRAVERS AN EXTREMELY INTERESTING RACE
Yet it’s the horses who were third and fourth, respectively, Kentucky Derby winner Orb and Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice, who might be the most formidable challengers for their elders in the fall. The Travers was Orb’s first race in 11 weeks and he should move forward off the race, while Palace Malice was most certainly the hard-luck horse – and arguably the best horse in the race - as a stumble at the start and a wide trip may have prevented him from landing in the winner’s circle.
Travers favorite Verrazano wanted no part of a mile and a quarter, but a more realistic challenge, like the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, would seem a perfect fit for him, and perhaps Moreno as well.
Wise Dan is the reigning Horse of the Year and in some corners he’s still the one to beat for the 2013 crown. He figures to meet top-notch competition from Europe in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (unless his connections have a change of heart and enter him the BC Classic) as well as a tough rival from the States in Obviously, who won Sunday’s Del Mar Mile as a 3-10 favorite.
This coming weekend, we’ll learn even more about the prospects for the fall as the Woodward at Saratoga could feature a fabulous field that includes Cross Traffic, Flat Out, Ron the Greek, Successful Dan, Mucho Macho Man, 2012 BC Classic winner Fort Larned, 2012 Travers co-winner Alpha and the horse who has the potential to script the most heartwarming tale at the Breeders’ Cup, Paynter, the horse who would not let life-threatening illnesses end his racing career.
CROSS TRAFFIC WON THE WHITNEY IN HIS LAST START
On Sunday and Monday at Saratoga, the Spinaway for fillies and Hopeful for colts will tell us more about the 2-year-old divisions that are always popular because of what happens on the first weekend in May on the following year.
And the list doesn’t there. More figures to be heard from stakes-winning and stakes-placed runners from this past weekend like Laughing, Pianist, Sweet Lulu, My Happy Face, Fed Biz, and Goldencents, and a Breeders’ Cup prospect or two or three should arise from a slew of closing week stakes at Del Mar.
There are no guarantees, but after what we saw this past weekend, the 2013 Breeders’ Cup is looms a blockbuster two-day affair with no shortage of great storylines and fabulous betting races.
Now all we need is a little bit of luck.
Get Tony Bennett ready, the best is yet to come, folks.