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Game On Dude fights to win Native Diver

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Inglewood, CA (Sportsbooks) - Odds-on favorite Game On Dude successfully bounced back from a disappointing Breeders' Cup to win Saturday's $250,000 Native Diver Handicap at Hollywood Park. The 5-year-old gelding covered the 1 1/8-miles in 1:52.27 on Hollywood's synthetic main track.

Trained by Bob Baffert, Game On Dude was ridden by Mike Smith after having the services of Rafael Bejarano and Chantal Sutherland. Smith had ridden Paynter in this year's Belmont Stakes for Baffert.

Breaking from the gate first in the Native Diver was Nonios ridden by Martin Pedroza. Game On Dude was second entering the first turn with Make Music for Me in third followed by defending winner Kettle Corn and Richard's Kid.

Game on Dude, owned in part by Joe Torre, took the lead entering the backstretch with Nonios pressing the pace and Make Music for Me in third. Richard's Kid continued to trail the field with Kettle Corn in fourth.

Entering the far turn, the 3-10 favorite still had the lead along the rail as Nonios moved closer in second and Kettle Corn advanced into third. Around the final turn Nonios edged closer to Game On Dude as Kettle Corn gained ground on the outside.

Game On Dude had the lead at the top of the stretch with Nonios and Pedroza drawing even. The favorite had a short advantage in mid-stretch over Nonios but was able to repulse the 3-year-old's bid as the finish line came closer.

Game On Dude was able to draw away from Nonios nearing the wire and register a 1 1/4-length victory over the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained colt. Kettle Corn finished third followed by Richard's Kid and Make Music for Me.

"I thought Nonios would be the horse to beat in here," Baffert said. "I figured Pedroza would try to get aggressive with him. I saw Pedroza go over there and I thought he was going to get in 'Dude's psyche a little bit, maybe try to cut him off or get him off his heels. That's one of the reasons we put Mike on him, because when you're a heavy favorite you can go ahead and get aggressive on him. Sometimes you have to go for broke."

Saturday's win was worth $137,500 to push Game On Dude's career earnings over the $3 million mark. The gelding has posted 10 wins in 22 lifetime starts. The win was the first for Smith in the Native Diver and gave Baffert his second along with General Challenge in 1999.

"The key for me was to win, and if I could win without gutting him, it would be really good," Smith said. "I wanted to see if he'd fight, he acted like he would in the mornings, and he certainly did in the afternoon. He won pretty much within himself."

Game On Dude was coming off a seventh in the Breeders' Cup Classic as the 13-10 favorite. Earlier this year he won the Californian and Hollywood Gold Cup along with the San Antonio and Awesome Again Stakes. He finished 12th in the Dubai World Cup and second in the Pacific Classic.

"It's just a shame that he ran great races all year long and had a bad trip in the Breeders' Cup," Baffert noted.

Game On Dude returned $2.60, $2.20 and $2.10. Nonios paid $3.20 and $2.40, and Kettle Corn paid $3.00 to show.

December 1, 2012, at 06:30 PM ET
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