Game on Dude: returned to winning ways with a hard-fought victoryPICTURE: Alex Evers/EquiSport Photos
Cup flop Dude fights off Nonios in Native Diver
Report: USA, Saturday
Hollywood Park: Native Diver Stakes (Grade 3) 1m1f, AW, 3yo+
BREEDERS' Cup flop Game On Dude (Bob Baffert/Mike Smith) returned to winning ways with a hard-fought victory in the Native Diver, where he held off a strong challenge from three-year-old Nonios.
Mike Smith took over on the five-year-old, only seventh when a beaten favourite in the Breeders' Cup Classic under Rafael Bejarano, who rode Richard's Kid in Saturday's $250,000 event.
Sent off 3-10 favourite as he returned to the Cushion Track surface on which he won the Hollywood Gold Cup, four-time Grade 1 winner Game On Dude was conceding weight all round in a hot race for the status.
Nonios broke better than the market leader, who seized the lead when Smith pushed him through on the rail at the first turn to make the running.
Nonios (received 5lb) wasn't done, however, throwing down a challenge in the stretch - only for Game On Dude to pull away once more to score by a length and a quarter in 1m52.27s.
Baffert said: "When I saw Nonios making that move and coming back on, I said, ‘Whoa,' because this track is pretty demanding. But then he cut back in and he wasn't really tired when he got back. It's just a shame that he ran great races all year long and had a bad trip in the Breeders' Cup."