06/25/2014 1:17PM

Clubhouse Ride tries to break through against Game On Dude in Gold Cup

Coady Photography
Clubhouse Ride (No. 4) loses by a half-length to Game On Dude in the 2013 Charles Town Classic, the closest he's come to beating Game On Dude in four meetings.

ARCADIA, Calif. – When Clubhouse Ride faces Game On Dude in Saturday’s $500,000 Gold Cup at Santa Anita, the two veterans will meet for the fifth time in the last 16 months. The score so far: Game On Dude 4, Clubhouse Ride 0.

Trainer Craig Lewis has massive respect for Game On Dude but has no hesitation about starting Clubhouse Ride in the Grade 1 Gold Cup.

“Game On Dude is as good a horse as there is in the country,” Lewis said. “When he runs his race, he’s been almost unbeatable.”

If there is a chance for an upset, Saturday could be the day, Lewis said.

Lewis is banking on Clubhouse Ride’s win in the Grade 2 Californian Stakes over 1 1/8 miles here May 31 as hope for a reversal. The Californian was Clubhouse Ride’s fifth start of 2014 and his first win. He missed training earlier this year after he was shod last winter in a way that removed a considerable portion of his foot, Lewis said. Clubhouse Ride needed time to allow for foot growth, the trainer said.

When Clubhouse Ride last met Game On Dude in the 2013 Hollywood Gold Cup, Clubhouse Ride had been racing for 11 months. Game On Dude won the race, with Clubhouse Ride fourth.

“After he won the Californian [in 2013], he was coming off a lot of tough races,” Lewis said. “This year, because of the unforeseen foot issue, I don’t think he was in top shape until the Californian. He is dead fit and ready to go.”

[Gold Cup at Santa Anita: Get PPs, watch Saturday's card live]

The closest Clubhouse Ride has come to beating Game On Dude was in the 2013 Charles Town Classic, which Game On Dude won by a half-length over runner-up Clubhouse Ride.

Owned by Six-S Racing Stable and Nikolas Petralia, Clubhouse Ride has won 5 of 37 starts and earned $1,220,132. He is the most experienced horse among the seven probable starters in the Gold Cup, which is run over 1 1/4 miles.

Game On Dude has won 16 of 32 starts and earned $6,408,893. He won the last two runnings of the Hollywood Gold Cup at Hollywood Park, which closed last December, resulting in the race being transferred to Santa Anita. Game On Dude was second in the 2011 Gold Cup.

Earlier this year, Game On Dude won the Santa Anita Handicap in March for a record third time but was second to the longshot Imperative in the $1.5 million Charles Town Classic in West Virginia on April 19. Imperative is part of the Gold Cup field.

Despite the loss, Game On Dude will be favored Saturday. The other expected runners are Fury Kapcori and Majestic Harbor, who were second and third in the Californian, and the South American imports Lideris and Salto Del Indio.

The Gold Cup is the top race for older males at the Santa Anita spring-summer meeting, which concludes Sunday. In addition to the $300,000 first-place prize money, there is a fees-paid berth available for the winner to the Breeders’ Cup Classic here Nov. 1 through the Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In program.

Since the Californian, the 6-year-old Clubhouse Ride has worked quickly over six furlongs – 1:12.80 on June 13 and 1:12:20 on June 20, the fastest workouts at the distance those mornings.

A repeat of Clubhouse Ride’s effort in the Californian leaves Lewis guardedly optimistic.

“He ran so hard and sustained a good run,” he said. “I’m hoping the race didn’t take it out of him.”

The Gold Cup is the premier race on a program that features four stakes.

In the $300,000 Triple Bend Stakes over seven furlongs, Sahara Sky, a four-time stakes winner, can rebound from a seventh May 3 in the Churchill Downs Stakes.

The $200,000 Royal Heroine Stakes for fillies and mares over a mile on turf includes stakes winners such as Habibi, Parranda, and Stormy Lucy.

The largest field of Saturday’s stakes is the Senorita Stakes for 3-year-old fillies over a mile on turf, which had 11 probable starters. Rovenna, a winner of two stakes for California-breds this year, will make her graded stakes debut in the Senorita.