05/30/2013 4:18PM

Hollywood Park: Clubhouse Ride free of nemesis in Californian

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Clubhouse Ride has finished second to Game On Dude in graded stakes three times this year.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – At least on Saturday, Clubhouse Ride is free of the presence of Game On Dude in the $150,000 Californian Stakes at Betfair Hollywood Park.

Game On Dude is the lone horse that has kept Clubhouse Ride from becoming a multiple stakes winner this year.
After finishing a well-beaten second to Game On Dude in the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes in February and Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap on March 2, Clubbhouse Ride nearly beat Game On Dude in the $1.5 million Charles Town Classic in West Virginia on April 20, losing by a half-length. The difference between the winner’s share and second place was $750,000.

“He ran too good to lose – half a length for a million dollars,” trainer Craig Lewis said. “The $250,000 was a good score.”

The Californian drew a field of seven that includes four stakes winners – Blueskiesnrainbows, Holladay Road, Kettle Corn, and Liaison; the stakes-placed Oilisblackgold; and Batti Man, who won an optional claimer here May 17.

[CALIFORNIAN STAKES: Get PPs, watch Saturday's full card live]

Clubhouse Ride and Liaison, who won the Grade 2 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap over 1 1/16 miles here May 4, will dominate the betting.

Garrett Gomez will ride Clubhouse Ride for the first time Saturday. Clubhouse Ride, who drew the rail, races from off the pace.

Batti Man and Blueskiesnrainbows, who won the Grade 2 Swaps Stakes over 1 1/8 miles here last July, will race near the front.

Liaison is likely to be just behind the leaders. A repeat of his last race would be good enough to win.

Trained by Bob Baffert for Arnold Zetcher, Liaison is unbeaten in two starts this year – the Santana Mile at Santa Anita in March and a win by 1 1/2 lengths in the Mervyn LeRoy.

“I think he matured and filled out,” Baffert said. “He’s better with age.”

Baffert, who trains Game On Dude, was confident in Liaison’s chances going into the Mervyn LeRoy.

“He’d been training well,” Baffert said. “I knew he’d run a good race.”

Baffert has the same expectations for Saturday’s race, acknowledging that a horse who gave Game On Dude a scare last month will be a challenge for Liaison.

“He’s in tougher,” Baffert said. “Clubhouse Ride has been knocking on the door.”

A winner of 3 of 27 starts and $869,620, Clubhouse Ride can win his first graded stakes in the Grade 2 Californian Stakes over 1 1/8 miles on the synthetic main track. The Californian could give Clubhouse Ride his first stakes win since the 2010 Barretts Juvenile at Fairplex Park. A win would lead to a start against Game On Dude in the $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup on July 6.

“If he runs well, we’ll go in the Gold Cup,” Lewis said.

Clubhouse Ride, who races for Nikolas Petralia and Six-S Racing Stable, is winless in six career starts on the synthetic track at Hollywood Park, but was third to Comma to the Top in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity here in 2010.

“He’s run well at every track we’ve taken him to, so we’re hopeful,” Lewis said.