It is rare that Bob Baffert, Chantal Sutherland and Game On Dude are upstaged as a trio, but if rival Richard's Kid wins the Pacific Classic at Del Mar for the third time on Sunday the fallout will completely overshadow the fact the winner receives a free ticket to the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita.
Game On Dude was only fourth last year in the Grade 1 event, run over 10 furlongs and without the winner, Acclamation, in the field this time connections would have been confident of victory before controversy clouded the build-up.
Richard's Kid, who was campaigned by Baffert at Meydan Racecourse in 2010 and this year for Satish Seemar, was sold out of the silver-haired American's stable last Saturday into the Kentucky-Derby winning operation of Doug O'Neill.
With O'Neill having started his high-profile 45-day suspension the day beforehand, it was a tough welcome for Leandro Mora, O'Neill's assistant, who will be taking over the day-to-day duties.
Baffert, who suffered a heart-attack in the lead-up to Game On Dude's unsuccessful bid to win this year's Dubai World Cup, told American media that he felt as if his "pockets had been picked" and things subsequently turned ugly.
It was reported that Mark Verge, the chief executive of Santa Anita, who is among the new owners, had a verbal exchange with Baffert's wife, Jill, at Wednesday's post-position draw.
Game On Dude beat Richard's Kid last month when Sutherland partnered the five year old to another front-running victory in the Hollywood Gold Cup Handicap at Hollywood Park to hand Baffert a second consecutive one-two in the race.
On paper Baffert has a strong hand in the US$1million (Dh3.67m) contest as he saddles another Group One winner Jaycito, who will be ridden by Rafael Bejarano.
Sutherland thinks otherwise, however, as the Del Mar track recently has been favouring horses with a late finishing kick.
There was a sense of injustice that crept in to her voice as the 36 year old delivered an extraordinary performance when giving a teleconference this week while doing squats at the gym on a Bosu Ball with her trainer.
"I just want to make sure that he gets a fair shot at it," the Canadian rider said of Game On Dude. "I want it to be fair for both closers and for front-runners."
Much like the Tapeta surface at Meydan, the Polytrack at Del Mar changes along with weather conditions.
With Game On Dude a confirmed pacesetter Sutherland said her hands are tied.
"The track's not really deep or really too tiring," she said. "It changes from the early couple races and then later in the day it seems to be more off the pace or tiring. So it makes it difficult for a jockey to decide how you're supposed to ride your race.
"But having said that, Game on Dude isó well, he's got his own style."
Over in Saratoga Godolphin's It's Tricky skipped her engagement in Friday's Grade 1 Ballerina Stakes, won by Turbulent Descent, and will line-up in today's Grade 1 Personal Ensign against Royal Delta, her regular rival and Dubai World Cup runner.
MELBOURNE CUP HOPEFULS ON THE MOVE
York, England // The were clues aplenty for the Melbourne Cup in England on Saturday starting with Frankie Dettori's maiden victory in the Ebor Handicap aboard Godolphin's Willing Foe.
Dettori had to endure the uncertainty of a photo-finish and a stewards' inquiry, having been involved in a driving run at the end of the one-mile-six-furlong contest with Irish raider Royal Diamond.
The Italian rider had never won Europe's most valuable handicap and after it was announced that Willing Foe had triumphed by a neck his delight was obvious.
"It's taken 25 years but my day has come," he said. "I knew I would keep the race [after the stewards' inquiry]. I did drift over a bit, but I beat the other horse fair and square.
"This is one of the most important handicaps of the season and now I've conquered it. I didn't have many boxes to tick, but this was one of them."
Just 35 minutes beforehand Godolphin failed to win the Group 2 Lonsdale Cup that was surprisingly taken by Times Up, trained by John Dunlop, Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid's long-standing trainer.
Lost In The Moment, who was sixth behind Dunaden at Flemington last season, was third in the race, run over two miles and 88 yards, with Cavalryman was fourth.
Both horses are in the mix for a trip Down Under for November's race.
The Dubai-based team are also considering a run for Colour Vision, the Ascot Gold Cup victor.
Elsewhere, Luca Cumani strengthened his hand in the race that is said to stop a nation when Quest For Peace won a Listed event over 1m6f at Goodwood.
It was the same race Cumani used to prepare Drunken Sailor for his unsuccessful trip two seasons ago.
The Dubai regular also has Mount Athos, who is widely regarded as the most likely winner of the Melbourne Cup at this stage.
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