GAME ON DUDE LARGE & IN CHARGE, WINS GRADE II SAN ANTONIO BY 6 ½ LENGTHS AT ODDS OF 1-9, BAFFERT SAYS IT’S ON TO THE SANTA ANITA HANDICAP ON MARCH 2

ARCADIA, Calif. (Feb. 3, 2013)—Game On Dude, with Mike Smith aboard, overpowered an overmatched group of three rivals in successfully defending his title in Sunday’s Grade II, $200,000 San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita, winning by 6 ½ lengths while covering 1 1/8 miles in a rapid 1:47.53.

Dispatched at odds of 1-9, Game On Dude broke sharply from post position two and was immediately engaged by 12-1 longshot Basmati, who broke from post five and was ridden by Mario Gutierrez.

“You know I got pressured, even more so than if it was a full field believe it or not,” said Smith. “In these short fields, people make you do things because it’s more of a match race. He has a high, high cruising speed and you just let him get into his rhythm whether that’s up front or off the lead.

“I let him do his thing today and he ran brilliant to be honest. He stood up over on the turn, took one breath and turned around like it was nothing. They were running quick, but that’s just him.”

With Basmati to his outside, the pair dueled through early splits of 23.38 and 46.78. Game On Dude took the lead going to the far turn, getting six furlongs in 1:10.53 and the mile in 1:35.02.

“I knew that other horse (Basmati) was probably going to try him a ways,” said winning trainer Bob Baffert. “They’re trying to win…but Game On Dude, he likes that. He’s competitive. Yeah, if all’s good, that’s where we’re headed (Grade I, $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap at 1 ¼ miles on March 2).

“I really didn’t want to run that fast early. I wanted to cruise around there. I wanted a Flashback (winner of Saturday’s Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes) kind of win. We’ll see how it takes its toll on him, but he ran a good race.”

A winner of the 2011 Santa Anita Handicap, Game On Dude, 6-year-old Kentucky-bred gelding by Awesome Again, has four Grade I wins to his credit and he came off a facile 1 ¼ length win in the Grade III Native Diver Stakes at Betfair Hollywood Park on Dec. 1.

“This is an extremely talented horse,” said Smith. “He might even be better this year.”

With no show wagering, Game On Dude paid $2.10 and $2.10. The San Antonio winner’s share of $120,000 boosted Game On Dude’s bankroll to $3,252,158 from an overall mark of 23-11-5-1.

Game On Dude is owned in-part by former baseball great Joe Torre, who was on-hand Sunday.

“He just seems to be such a great competitor,” said Torre. “Again, I’m not an authority on horses. I sit next to Baffert whenever I can, and when he told me at the top of the stretch that he’s got plenty left, I sort of relaxed a little bit.”

Along with Torre, Game On Dude is owned by Bernie Schiappa, Deborah Lanni, Ernest Moody and Maria Mercedes Vila.

Clubhouse Ride, with Aaron Gryder up, tried to get on terms with the winner approaching the quarter pole, but was no match. Off at 10-1, he finished 13 ¾ lengths in front of Make Music for Me and Martin Garcia.

Clubhouse Ride paid $2.80 to show.

With $287,272 bet to place on Game On Dude, there was a minus place pool of $53,241. “Dude” attracted $151,257 to win, creating a minus win pool of $4,045.

The total Pick Six pool on Sunday was $191,823, and there was one winning ticket worth $102,464.40. The ticket was purchased for an as-yet unknown amount in the state of Nevada.

Live racing will resume at Santa Anita on Thursday, with first post time at 1 p.m.