By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOS ANGELES, Oct 29 (Reuters) - Game On Dude has a chance to atone for last year's disappointment after being installed as favourite to win Saturday's Breeders' Cup Classic, the feature event in the two-day racing carnival at iconic Santa Anita Park.
Twelve months ago, Game On Dude ended up a disheartening seventh out of 12 after a sluggish start out of the gate, having gone into North America's richest horse race as a 6-5 favourite.
This year, though, the gelding has looked like a very different horse, winning all five of his starts in dominant, front-running fashion, and it came as no surprise when he was elevated to the 8-5 favourite for the $5 million showpiece.
Mucho Macho Man, runner-up last year, is the second choice at 5-1 with Fort Larned, who won the 2012 Classic as a 9-1 shot after a storming run down the stretch, at 6-1.
Game On Dude is prepared by Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who is still chasing his first victory in the Classic, having enjoyed success in most of the other top races in the United States.
"I like his outside post; I didn't want to be buried down on the inside," Baffert told reporters after the six-year-old gelding drew the nine hole in the 12-runner field. "The field is strong. It's so competitive this year.
"But he's a much different horse this year in the way he's run and the way he's been training. He just seems like he's in the zone right now.
"Everything has to go smooth. The horse has to fire. The jockey has to fire. I feel really confident that he's ready to run. Hopefully this could be his year."
STARTING IN SIXTH POST
Mucho Macho Man, who finished half a length back in second place last year after almost pulling level while chasing Fort Larned hard down the stretch, will start on Saturday from the sixth post with veteran jockey Gary Stevens on board.
"It's very good," said Mucho Macho Man's trainer Kathy Ritvo. "I'm happy with it.
"We're going to let Gary handle it. He's going to have to see how it goes."
Other runners of note in the Classic include Ron the Greek, the 8-1 choice, along with Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice and Declaration of War, who were both 10-1 chances.
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott has twice won the Classic, most recently with Drosselmeyer in 2011, and he has two entries this year in Ron the Greek and Flat Out, a 12-1 shot.
Mott also trains Royal Delta, the morning line 8-5 favourite for Friday's $2 million Distaff where the five-year-old mare will be bidding to win a third consecutive title.
However, Royal Delta will face a strong challenge from the Todd Pletcher-trained filly Princess of Sylmar, a 9-5 choice who has won six of seven starts this year, and her last four in a row.
In Saturday's $3 million Turf, English raider The Fugue will break from the seventh spot as the 3-1 choice, with last year's runner-up Point of Entry the second choice at 4-1.
In the penultimate race of the two-day extravaganza at Santa Anita Park, Wise Dan is the even money favourite in the Mile where the six-year-old will be bidding to defend the title he clinched last year with a course record at Santa Anita.
Wise Dan started 2013 with five straight wins on turf and, with John Velazquez in the saddle for the $2 million race, will open from the eight hole in the 10-horse field. (Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue)