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 straight 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 race's 13 starters.
Ultimate Eagle was made the 5-2 morning line favorite for the 75th Big `Cap. He is coming off a 7 1-4-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 1 1-4-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 in a controversial finish.
"He's ready to run his best race ever," Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella said.
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 earnings of $506,486, with seconds in the 2010 Santa Anita Derby and Californian. Mandella decided to geld his runner after Setsuko finished ninth in the Pacific Classic last August. Since then, he won a race at Santa Anita on Feb. 4.
The field for the Santa Anita Handicap, with jockeys, weights and odds in post position order: Uh Oh Bango, Mike Smith, 117 pounds, 6-1; Ultimate Eagle, Martin Pedroza, 120, 5-2; Ron the Greek, Jose Lezcano,116, 6-1; Boxeur de Rues, Mario Gutierrez, 112, 50-1; Thirtyfirststreet, Eswan Flores, 114, 30-1; Twice the Appeal, Christian Santiago Reyes, 114, 30-1; Fiddlers Afleet, Kevin Krigger, 110, 50-1; Gladding, Joel Rosario, 116, 12-1; Setsuko, Victor Espinoza, 116, 4-1; Norvsky, Joe Talamo, 118, 6-1; Prayer for Relief, Martin Garcia, 117, 8-1; Holladay Road, Rafael Bejarano, 114, 8-1, and Victory Pete, Corey Nakatani, 114, 50-1.