ARCADIA, Calif. — The Breeders' Cup Classic owes Game On Dude and Bob Baffert.
Last year, the 5-year-old gelding was beaten in the closing strides of the $5 million race. Drosselmeyer won by 1½ lengths and was retired soon after, while Game On Dude has soldiered on to win four stakes this year. He faltered in the Dubai World Cup, but his worst effort in two years was overshadowed by Baffert's heart attack. The 59-year-old trainer survived his March ordeal, and Game On Dude rebounded to win three of his next four starts.
Now they have a second chance to win the Classic, a feat that has eluded Baffert in nine previous attempts.
Game On Dude is the early 9-5 favorite for Saturday's 1¼-mile race at Santa Anita, where he is 5-0 and Baffert is based.
"He's a better horse this year," Baffert said of Game On Dude, co-owned by MLB executive and former manager Joe Torre. "He seems more relaxed."
The last time the Breeders' Cup was run at Santa Anita in 2010, Baffert went 0-for-3.
Now he has got 10 starters, including Power Broker and Title Contender in the $2 million Juvenile and the pair of Capital Account and Coil in the $1.5 million Sprint.
"If you're in this game long enough, you're going to have highs and lows," he said. "If you can ride out the lows, you know the highs are just around the corner."
Back again: Animal Kingdom, the 2011 Kentucky Derby winner, launches a second comeback from injury in the $2 million Mile on the turf. He rallied from 13th to lose the Preakness by a half-length to Shackleford. In the Belmont, he was sixth, suffering a hock injury that required surgery. He did not run until February, winning an allowance race. Three weeks after, a hairline pelvic fracture that did not require surgery was detected.
So it was back to the bench, and Animal Kingdom resumed training in June. It's not an easy comeback spot. Animal Kingdom is 8-1 against a strong field that includes Wise Dan, the 9-5 favorite, and Excelebration, one of the top grass milers in Europe.
Scratched: Nereid, winless in five races this season and 15-1 on the morning line, was scratched from the $2 million Filly & Mare Turf with a minor injury to the right hind leg.