Mike Smith paused, then summed up his thoughts about Game On Dude tackling three tight turns in Saturday night's Charles Town Classic. "As long as he'll go around there, I'll go with him."
Then he cackled.
Yup, for $1.5 million, Mike Smith will go anywhere. The Hall of Famer will make his first appearance at Charles Town, the three-quarters of a mile track in West Virginia, home of the $1.5 million Charles Town Classic. Smith has guided Game On Dude to three consecutive wins, wiring the Native Diver, San Antonio and Santa Anita Handicap.
"He's a dream, buddy. He's a dream. On the track, he's really straightforward, all about business. Around the barn, he's a sweetheart," Smith said. "To be honest, he feels like he's gotten better every time I've ridden him. The first time was on synthetic and that's not his favorite, but he ran really well that day, ran great. Then he came back and it was like, 'Wow.' Then he came back and beat the best older horses in the country by six, seven open lengths, which was incredible."
They were simply processions as Smith allowed the 6-year-old gelding to do what he does best. You don't ask Hemingway to paint. You don't ask Picasso to write.
"With him, he's got such a high cruising speed that he's never going to go slow, it's not like he's getting away with slow fractions, he's not going around there in 24 in 48, he usually hits a 46 on you going a mile and a quarter," Smith said. "He's running, that's just him, in that high cruising speed. I just get him into his good comfortable rhythm and it's usually pretty quick, wherever that puts him, it's usually in front, or at least forwardly placed if not in front, let him do his thing, stay out of his way."
Smith will stay out his way and Game On Dude should do the rest as he faces six rivals including last year's winner Caixa Eletronica and $1.8 million earner Ron The Greek. Game On Dude has been to Charles Town once before, finishing second in the Classic in 2011. That day, Duke Of Mischief ran him down in the slop. In his career, Game On Dude has won 12 races from 24 starts for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.
Smith isn't worried about the nuances of the track.
"It didn't bother him when he ran in it before, he's got the experience of running over it," Smith said. "He's a real handy horse, a real straightforward, handy horse. He should handle it. He's doing real well right now."
As for Smith, he'll be making his trip to Charles Town, but not his first trip to a short track.
"I won the Illinois Derby at Sportsman, a while back. Ruidoso was a bullring, places like that, I started out there, galloped horses," Smith said. "I've been around some little farms, little tracks, breezing horses at little places. I was raised on little tracks."