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Dude holds on to take Charles Town million

Preview: USA, Saturday

Charles Town: Charles Town Classic (Grade 2) 1m1f, dirt, 4yo+

THE richest prize of the year to date went the way of the favourite on Saturday night when Game On Dude (Bob Baffert/Mike Smith) held off the pack to shoulder top-weight to victory in the richly endowed Charles Town Classic.

Only a few Breeders' Cup events and the Kentucky Derby are worth more among US races than this slots-inflated $1.5 million contest, run around a tight 'bull-ring' circuit in the unlikely environs of West Virginia.

Sent off a hot 3-10 favourite, five-time Grade 1 winner Game On Dude had to fight to establish his customary position at the head of affairs before holding off the late-running Clubhouse Ride by a half-length to claim a $1m first prize.

The runner-up, also second to Game On Dude on his previous outing, touched off multiple Grade 1 victor Ron The Greek for second place. The final time was 1m52.27s on a track favouring front-runners.

Winning jockey Mike Smith reported Game On Dude had struggled with his footing. "My main concern was he was slipping a lot," he told the Daily Racing Form.

"I slipped leaving there. I slipped in the first turn. I slipped in the middle of the turn, but he just wouldn't stop."

The admirable six-year-old has now won 13 of his 25 starts in a career largely spent at the top level. The Breeders' Cup Classic is once again likely to be his long-term target.

Also on Saturday

Keeneland: Coolmore Lexington Stakes (Grade 2) 1m½f, AW, 3yo

As if five Kentucky Derby runners weren't enough, Todd Pletcher could run a sixth if he wanted after allowance winner Winning Cause (Julien Leparoux) qualified for the May 4 Classic as he held longshot General Election by a length. "I never thought he was good enough - we'll have to wait and see," said the trainer.

Hawthorne: Illinois Derby (Grade 3) 1m1f, dirt, 3yo

For what can only be political reasons, this $750,000 event is shamefully excluded from the Kentucky Derby qualifications system - despite having produced the 2002 winner War Emblem.

Louisiana Derby third Departing (Al Stall/Brian Hernandez) got the money, overcoming a wide draw in gate 13 and racing wide at both turns before an impressive 3¼-length score.

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