By Eric Jones - email@example.com
CHARLES TOWN - Joe Torre wasn't going to miss another opportunity to see Game On Dude.
The former Major League Baseball player and manager, who led the New York Yankees to four World Series titles during his tenure in the Big Apple, wasn't there to see the horse he co-owns capture an historic victory in March's Santa Anita Handicap.
Prior commitments with Team USA in the World Baseball Classic kept him from the race.
Torre was there Saturday at Hollywood Casinos at Charles Town Races to see Game On Dude produce another big win, this time a $1 million win in the fifth annual Charles Town Classic, one of the richest races in the country.
For Torre, it was much like a baseball game, watching as his team, in this case his horse, for for the win.
"It was like having Mariano Rivera on the mound in the ninth inning, you're watching helplessly because there's nothing you can do.
"[Game On Dude] is a great horse, Mike Smith is a great jockey."
Torre, along with thousands more on the track rails and in the grandstands, watched as the 6-year-old Game On Dude held off the field for a close victory.
"He's just a workhouse. He does everything you ask," jockey Mike Smith said.
Coming in, Game On Dude's advantage was speed, and if he got out front early, it was game over.
However, he was never able to pull ahead like many thought, and had to fend off Clubhouse Ride, Ron the Greek and Percussion, which took the lead early on in the race.
"He had a little bit of trouble with the surface, and he was having trouble with the tight turns," Smith said. "He was struggling, but when he got wind of the horse beside him, he turned it on."
"It looked like he was struggling a little bit. They made him work for it," Torre said. "He won with a lot of heart tonight."
Early on, Percussion went to the front, leading Game On Dude, owned by legendary trainer Bob Baffert, as the field hit the first turn of the 1 1/8 mile track.
As the six-horse field headed into the backstretch, Game On Dude pushed his way to the lead, then had to work hard as the field came off the final turn.
Behind, Percussion, Clubhouse Ride and Ron the Greek were ganging up on him. However, the top throughbred in the country had enough to hold on for the win.
It was a tense few seconds before Game On Dude gained some separation and crossed the finish line in first.
"I'm happier with a seven-run lead," Torre said, referring to the close finish.
The entire ownership group, as well as Baffert, is a lot happier after Saturday's win and a lot richer, too.
The Charles Town Classic was a sight to see, and Torre was there to see it.
Among the other highlights, there was the $50,000 Webb Snyder Charles Town Dash in which Fearsome, ridden by J.D. Acosta, pulled somewhat of an upset and prevented favorite Immortal Eyes from winning the event for a third straight time.
Coming in, Immortal Eyes, the 8-year-old gelding, had won nine times in 10 races at Charles Town.
Also, in the $200,000 Sugar Maples, Dance to Bristol held off Holiday Soiree for the win. Soiree was expected to battle with Book Review, but Book Review was a late scratch.