The home team is looking pretty powerful for the Breeders’ Cup.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert and Rafael Bejarano teamed to win three of the five Grade 1 stakes worth $250,000 each at Santa Anita on Saturday, including the Awesome Again with Game On Dude.
The 5-year-old gelding earned an automatic berth in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 3 at Santa Anita, a race he finished second in last year at Churchill Downs.
”I was hoping for this kind of outcome,” Baffert said. ”They were all coming into their races really well. We still have a ways to go, and as long as they all stay healthy and keep moving forward, that’s the main goal.”
Game On Dude returned to the winner’s circle under new jockey Rafael Bejarano after they won by 3-1/4 lengths.
The gelding improved to 5 for 5 at his home track for Baffert, who replaced Chantal Sutherland with Bejarano after Game On Dude lost the Pacific Classic by a half-length last month at Del Mar.
Berths in various Breeders’ Cup races were awarded to all the winners. Bejarano capped his day by winning the $70,000-added Unzip Me Stakes.
Game On Dude ran 1-1/8 miles in 1 minute, 49.98 seconds as the 1-5 favorite in the race named for his sire. The show pool on Game On Dude was $368,761, while $160,268 was bet to win. The gelding is co-owned by retired baseball manager Joe Torre.
”The break was really important for him,” Baffert said. ”Sometimes, he wants to get a little edgy in the gate, but he broke really well. Plan A was if he breaks well, don’t move on him. He found a seam right away and got him to the outside. They slowed it down, so he just sat there and waited, then asked him to run in the stretch. It was the prep that you want for a horse like this.”
Nonios, a 10-1 shot, was second. Richard’s Kid, third in the Pacific Classic, finished in the same spot Saturday in front of 17,565 who endured temperatures in the low 90s. Richard’s Kid is co-owned by Santa Anita CEO Mark Verge.
Bejarano is the top rider for Baffert’s stable, and the trainer said he made the change because he wanted his No. 1 jockey on his top horses. Sutherland had no mounts on Saturday.
”He handles the pressure really well. When you’re 1-to-5, he knows just keep him out of trouble and let them run their race,” Baffert said. ”If they win, they win. If they get beat, give them a chance.”
Bejarano returned a day after escaping serious injury when he was thrown in the fifth race Friday.
”My horse broke so fast from the gate that I let the other horse (Winning Machine) send a little bit to make sure I could hold my horse and put him in better position,” the jockey said. ”. . . The race was done because he was much the best horse in the race.”
Kentucky Derby and Preakness-winning trainer Doug O’Neill, who oversees Richard’s Kid, had to settle for a second and a third in the Grade 1 races a day after returning from a 40-day suspension.
”Our horse was last the whole way and then made up ground to finish third,” said Leandro Mora, O’Neill’s assistant. ”I know the winner is a game horse who likes to go wire-to-wire. If somebody doesn’t fight him on top of it, he’s a champion.”
In the other Grade 1 stakes:
• Executiveprivilege improved to 5 for 5 with a 6-1/4-length victory in the Chandelier Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, securing a spot in the BC Juvenile Fillies on Nov. 2.
Ridden by Bejarano, Executiveprivilege led all the way in running 1-1/16 miles in 1:44.95 while trying two turns for the first time. She paid $2.60. It was Baffert’s eighth win in the race, previously run as the Oak Leaf Stakes.
Scarlet Strike was second and Miss Empire third.
• Power Broker won for the first time in four starts, surging through the stretch under Bejarano to capture the FrontRunner Stakes for 2-year-olds by 6-1/2 lengths.
The Baffert trainee ran 1-1/16 miles in 1:44.44 and paid $12.60. Power Broker earned a spot in the BC Juvenile on Nov. 3.
Know More, the 8-5 favorite running on dirt for the first time, finished second for O’Neill.
Capo Bastone was third. Carving, co-owned by Olympic champion skier Bode Miller and Baffert’s wife, Jill, led much of the way before fading to fourth in his first loss in three starts.
Baffert’s other starter, Den’s Legacy, was fifth.
• Love and Pride won the Zenyatta Stakes by 3-1/4 lengths for trainer Todd Pletcher, who shipped the filly in from New York to get familiar with Santa Anita before the Breeders’ Cup.
Ridden by Martin Garcia, Love and Pride ran 1-1/16 miles in 1:43.09 and paid $10.20.
Joyful Victory, who shipped in from Kentucky for trainer Larry Jones, was second, and Include Me Out was third. Include Me Out was already qualified for the Nov. 2 Ladies’ Classic, while Love and Pride earned the automatic berth.
Jerry and Ann Moss, who own superstar mare Zenyatta, were on hand for the race, formerly known as the Lady’s Secret. A bronze life-sized statue of Zenyatta was unveiled at Santa Anita earlier Saturday.
• Marketing Mix and Garrett Gomez won the Rodeo Drive Stakes by 2-1/4 lengths on the turf for trainer Tom Proctor. The 4-year-old filly covered 1-1/4 miles in 1:59.20 and paid $4 as the even-money favorite.
She claimed the automatic spot in the BC Filly & Mare Turf on Nov. 2.
Nereid was second and Stormy Lucy third in the race previously known as the Yellow Ribbon Stakes.