Rick Snider: For Baffert, it's 'Game On' at Breeders' Cup

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Sports,Rick Snider

Trainer Bob Baffert has a cure for the second-itis that has plagued him throughout this year's Triple Crown.

Game On Dude is the heavy favorite in Saturday's $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic, the pinnacle of thoroughbred racing's two days of championship events. After finishing second in last year's Classic, Game On Dude has won four of five races on California tracks headed into the Santa Anita Park event.

After enduring three second-place finishes in the Triple Crown last spring with Bodemeister (Kentucky Derby and Preakness) and Paynter (Belmont), Baffert lost some national luster. His stable once seemed invincible with five Preakness, three Derby and one Belmont crowns plus seven Breeders' Cup victories. There were three Triple Crown misses after his horses won the first two legs.

But Baffert has been pushed aside by Todd Pletcher as the nation's top money-earning trainer. A heart attack in March certainly gave the popular Baffert an even more mellow persona. But Baffert lives for winning. He just doesn't show it the same way as fellow multiple Derby-winning trainers Nick Zito and D. Wayne Lukas.

Game On Dude will restore Baffert to the top once more. The 5-year-old gelding's victory in the Awesome Again on Sept. 29 sharpened him for the 1?-mile race. The 9-5 morning line odds seem a little overzealous, but the 12-horse field only has a couple rivals.

Fort Larned is the exacta play after winning on four tracks this year, including the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga. Too bad none was in California. Still, Fort Larned has the speed to stay with the leaders.

The rest of the field is unworthy of the Classic. It's supposed to be a race of champions, but injuries to the three Triple Crown race winners and the absence of many older stakes victors have resulted in a weak field. Use Flat Out in triples after a Jockey Club Gold Cup victory. Alpha is an interesting 20-1 long shot after a dead-heat victory in the Travers Stakes.

The Juvenile crowns the next Derby favorite, and Baffert has the top contender in Power Broker. The 2-year-old colt finally won in his fourth race, but the previous two were on turf before Baffert decided Power Broker has the stamina needed for the spring classics.

Shanghai Bobby has won all four starts under Pletcher in New York, though. He's either a coming champion or just a great sprinter. Chances are the pace will grind Shanghai Bobby down, but he's still worth taking in triples along with Monument.

The Sprint is always the most fun race to observe. It's like watching rockets go for three quarters of a mile. That this year's event is wide open makes it a great betting affair. Look for a front-runner that can steal it early. The Lumber Guy is the pick over Sum of the Parts and Trinniberg.

Examiner columnist Rick Snider has covered local sports since 1978. Read more on Twitter @Snide_Remarks or email rsnider@washingtonexaminer.com.

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