ARCADIA, Calif. — Bob Baffert will have a horse in the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap this weekend. It just won’t be defending champion Game On Dude.
The Hall of Fame trainer decided Wednesday that Game On Dude will skip Saturday’s Grade 1 race at Santa Anita and chase a bigger payday in the $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 31 in the United Arab Emirates.
Baffert’s hopes of winning a third consecutive Santa Anita Handicap will rest with 8-1 shot Prayer for Relief, whose career earnings of more than $1 million make the 4-year-old colt the richest of the 13 starters.
Ultimate Eagle was made the 5-2 morning line favorite for the 75th Big ’Cap. He is coming off a 71/4-length victory in the Strub Stakes on Feb. 4. That was Ultimate Eagle’s first start on dirt and he’ll be seeking his sixth win in seven starts in the 11/4-mile Big’ Cap. He will break from the No. 2 post and carry high weight of 120 pounds.
With front-running Game On Dude out of the picture, jockey Martin Pedroza said Ultimate Eagle is “the speed of the speed. If someone wants to go crazy and go with him, they won’t get far.”
Ultimate Eagle’s three graded stakes victories have come gate-to-wire fashion. He has career earnings of $467,800 with five wins in nine starts.
Setsuko is back a year after losing to Game On Dude by a nose.
Setsuko is the 4-1 second choice although the 5-year-old gelding has never won a stakes race in 17 tries. But he has won $506,486, with seconds in the 2010 Santa Anita Derby and Californian. Trainer Richard Mandella decided to geld his runner after Setsuko finished ninth in the Pacific Classic last August.
ON THE SHELF: A bone chip has ended Junebugred’s season at Oaklawn.
The horse will need arthroscopic surgery on his ankle, which will keep the winner of the Smarty Jones Stakes out of the Arkansas Derby.
Trainer Steve Hobby says Junebugred will be on the shelf for about 90 days after the surgery.