Liaison rolls home to win the Mervyn Leroy Handicap.

Liaison rolls home to win the Mervyn Leroy Handicap.

Benoit Photo

Liaison Makes Winning Move in Mervyn LeRoy

Arnold Zetcher's 4-year-old wins second stakes in a row May 4 at Hollywood Park.

Liaison  disposed of favored Blueskiesnrainbows  coming off the far turn and lengthened stride impressively through the stretch to take the Mervyn Leroy Handicap (gr. II) handily by 1 1/2 lengths May 4 at Betfair Hollywood Park (VIDEO).

The 4-year-old Bob Baffert-trained son of Indian Charlie added the important local prep for the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) to his grade I triumph at Hollywood Park as a 2-year-old in the CashCall Futurity.

Liaison, who was coming off a victory in the Santana Mile at Santa Anita Park March 31, has now won three of five starts over Hollywood's Cushion Track for owner Arnold Zetcher. The 5-2 second choice posted a final time for the 1 1/16-mile event of 1:42.79.

Bred in Kentucky by the William A. Carl Estate, Liaison is out of the graded stakes-placed Victory Gallop mare Galloping Gal and sold for $250,000 as a 2010 Keeneland September yearling.

After breaking alertly out of the gate, jockey Martin Garcia settled Liaison in second as 2-1 choice Blueskiesnrainbows scooted up the rail to take the lead early on the clubhouse turn. Those two led the six-horse field through solid quarter-mile fractions of :24.52, :47.52, and 1:11.47, with Blueskiesnrainbows maintaining a narrow edge and the Baffert-trained Guilt Trip and Vagabond Shoes rating three lengths or so farther back.

Rounding the far turn, Midnight Transfer made a big move from fifth on the far outside to reach contention, and Liaison increased the pressure on Blueskiesnrainbows coming out of the bend. Midnight Transfer lost ground coming into the homestretch and Liaison, after getting a slight edge, put away Blueskiesnrainbows approaching mid-stretch. Liaison was fully extended late after opening a 1 1/2-length advantage. But he had the measure of the late-running Kettle Corn , who railed along the inside to finish second.

"He's improving all the time," Garcia said of Liaison. "He out-broke everybody, but I just let (Blueskiesnrainbows) take the lead and sat chilly in second. When I asked him to go, he responded. He finished the job."

Kettle Corn, ridden by Victor Espinoza, was second by 2 1/2 lengths over Guilt Trip and Joe Talamo. Blueskiesnrainbows, who edged Liaison by three-quarters of a length in last summer's Swaps Stakes (gr. II) at Hollywood, faded to fourth.

"(Liaison) moved up a lot from his previous race, which was a good race coming off a layoff," noted Baffert assistant Mike Marlow. "But today he was right there on the break and I think (Garcia) really rode him smart today. There was one speed in the race (Blueskiesnrainbows) and he didn't let him get away. And the horse just kind of wanted to be up there. Guilt Trip looks like he just got outrun today."

Improving to 5-1-3 in 14 lifetime starts, Liaison's bankroll swelled to $721,794.

He carried 118 pounds and paid $7.80, $4, and $2.80, topping an exacta worth $40.40. C R K Stable's Kettle Corn, making his first start for trainer John Sadler since finishing third in the Native Diver Stakes (gr. III) at Hollywood Dec. 1, paid $5.20 and $3.20. Guilt Trip, who won the Strub Stakes (gr. II) Feb. 2 for Gary and Mary West, paid $2.80.

"I thought for his first time back he ran very well," Sadler said of Kettle Corn, who has a 3-1-3 in seven starts at Hollywood. "He's such an honest horse. He always runs a really good race and he really likes the synthetic." 

Blueskiesnrainbows was followed by Midnight Transfer and Vagabond Shoes. Tres Borrachos scratched.

Next up for Hollywood's handicap series is the Californian (gr. II) June 1 and the Gold Cup July 6.