04/18/2013 5:05PM

Jay Hovdey: Clubhouse Ride second best and counting - money

Shigeki Kikkawa
Clubhouse Ride has finished second behind Game On Dude in both the San Antonio and Santa Anita Handicap.

Craig Lewis does not take a horse out of town very often. But when he does, he prefers to travel heavy.

At the cold, wet Breeders’ Cup of 1988 at Churchill Downs, Lewis swung for the stars with Cutlass Reality, a 6-year-old grandson of Damascus and In Reality who knocked off both Aysheba and Ferdinand in the Hollywood Gold Cup that summer. He was supplemented to the $3 million Classic for $360,000 but ran like a horse who hated the muddy ground, finishing seventh to Alysheba after showing his usual speed.

In 2005, Lewis took the 5-year-old mare Valentine Dancer to Gulfstream Park for the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf, the same race she’d won in 2004 at Santa Anita. It was tougher on the road, but she got the job done anyway, winning by a nose.

Lewis had another close one in 1989, when he turned up at Sportsman’s Park for the $500,000 Illinois Derby with Music Merci, a little gray gelding made mostly of grit and hard sinew. After a nightmare trip around the Sportsman’s skin-tight bullring – during which Music Merci took up, clipped heels, and altered course dramatically in the stretch – he came up a head short of beating Notation, who spent most of the nine furlongs on or near the lead.

There was, however, a happy ending for Lewis . . . eventually. Notation was disqualified for interference and Music Merci was awarded the win, but the decision was appealed by Notation’s owners. The people behind both horses were paid second money of $103,380, with another $206,760 set aside pending the appeal.

“The racing board took a year to decide what to do,” Lewis recalled, although it was actually closer to seven interminable months. “I checked the mail every day religiously until the money finally came. And you know, they didn’t pay any interest.”

On Saturday at the Hollywood Casino & Charles Town Races, somewhere in the verdant hills of West Virginia, Lewis will go forth once again, this time in the $1.5 million Charles Town Classic with Clubhouse Ride, a son of Candy Ride. The good news is that Garrett Gomez will be in the saddle. The other news is that Game On Dude, Ron the Greek, and defending Classic champ and animated super hero Caixa Eletronica also are in the field.

[CHARLES TOWN CLASSIC: Get PPs, watch Saturday's full card live]

On paper, Clubhouse Ride looks like the second best older horse in Southern California, only these days that’s a little like being the second best golfer in Adam Scott’s family. In February, Clubhouse Ride finished second to Game On Dude in the San Antonio Stakes, beaten 6 1/2 lengths. In March, Clubhouse Ride finished second to Game On Dude in the Santa Anita Handicap, beaten 7 3/4 lengths. A pattern has developed.

“It looks like there’s more than just him to beat, but Game On Dude looks like the unbeatable foe right now,” Lewis said this week before heading east. “I’m hoping he stubs his toe and I don’t. Either way, that’s a lot of money to run for. You don’t have to win to have a successful trip.”

Clubhouse Ride’s record of three wins with 15 seconds and thirds can be a frustrating read. Then you get to the part where he’s earned nearly $620,000 on a purchase price of $22,000 at a Barretts yearling sale for the Seidner family’s Six-S Racing Stable and their partner Nikolas Petralia. When the hammer fell, Lewis went back and counted the legs.

“I thought I missed something,” he said. “He was a nice-looking colt with a real good pedigree, by Candy Ride out of a Seeking the Gold mare. Sometimes you get lucky.”

Clubhouse Ride has trained well at Santa Anita since the Handicap, which kind of goes without saying or else Lewis wouldn’t have put him on a plane. The horse was bedded down at Charles Town on Tuesday after a journey without incident, which allow his trainer to exhale.

“We had an incident when he was 2 and shipped to Delta Downs for the Delta Jackpot,” Lewis recalled. “He got sick and ran a temperature, but he was better the next day. Then he went out and ran third, which really impressed me because I knew he probably wasn’t a hundred percent.”

Clubhouse Ride inserted himself briefly into the conversation for the 2011 Kentucky Derby when he finished second to Tapizar in the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita. He emerged from that race with a fractured ankle, ending his 3-year-old campaign, then had his return further delayed by a shoulder problem.

“It happens more frequently than you would think,” Lewis said. “Sometimes when I have an injury running and I try to come back I hurt something else. I don’t know if you don’t have everything in balance, or exactly what. So I think it’s taken him a while psychologically to get back where he was, but I think he’s there now, and maybe even exceeded it.”

Having survived those early physical setbacks, Clubhouse Ride now seems like a horse built to last. He ran a dozen times in 2012, and going into the Classic finds himself on a run of four straight seconds dating back to the Daytona Stakes at Santa Anita on Dec. 29.

If nothing else, the purse bounty of the youthful Charles Town Classic has given owners a reason to think of Thoroughbreds as having economic value past their prime-time exposure as 3-year-olds. Game On Dude, who is 6, is a gelding, but 5-year-old Clubhouse Ride, 6-year-old Ron the Greek, and 8-year-old Caixa Eletronica still have their original equipment. Lewis, whose smallish stable must make the most of each drop of talent, extols the virtues of the older racehorse.

“People have no concept,” Lewis said. “It really is dramatic. A 3-year-old is still developing, but a 5-year-old in top physical condition is like a fighter in his prime.”

Enjoy the rumble.