Clubman was much the best in the 2019 Maryland Coalition Stakes at Timonium. Photo by Jim McCue.

J R Sanchez Racing Stable’s multiple stakes winner Clubman, unraced since a troubled trip in the historic Pimlico Special (G3) last fall, returns to action looking to rediscover his winning form in Friday’s feature at Laurel Park.

The third-level optional claiming allowance for 4-year-olds and up sprinting seven furlongs is carded sixth on an eight-race program as Laurel begins the final month of its winter meet. First race post time is 12:25 p.m.

Clubman, a 7-year-old gelding trained by Laurel-based Rodolfo Sanchez-Salomon, was nominated to make his comeback in the $75,000 Not For Love. The six-furlong sprint for Maryland-bred/sired horses, named for his sire, is among five stakes worth $450,000 in purses March 13.

Instead, Sanchez-Salomon opted to bring Clubman back in Friday’s race where he drew Post 5 in a field of eight that includes 2020 Fire Plug winner Honor the Fleet; Oxide, a winner of three of his last four starts; Awesome D J, third to Harpers First Ride and Cordmaker in the 2020 Deputed Testamony; and Hanalei’s Houdini, racing first off the claim for Maryland’s leading trainer Claudio Gonzalez.

“I just wanted to give him the chance to run in an easier spot. The stake is really, really tough and I don’t want to push him yet,” Sanchez-Salomon. “He’s really, really happy right now. I hope he comes back the way he used to be before.”

Clubman is a 10-time winner from 44 career starts, going five-for-13 in 2019 including stakes wins in the Maryland Coalition at Timonium and Russell Road at Charles Town. He went winless in 2020 with two thirds, both in stakes, one of them behind fellow multiple stakes winners Alwaysmining and John Jones in the Jennings at Laurel.

In his most recent start, Clubman was forced to steady early in the Pimlico Special at Pimlico Race Course, rescheduled from mid-May to Oct. 2 amid the coronavirus pandemic. After the race, Sanchez-Salomon gave the lifetime earner of $464,682 some time off.

“He’s a very sound horse. He was just sour before I sent him to the farm. I sent him to the farm for three months,” he said. “He’s going to be tough in that race. If he runs the way he’s been doing right now, he’s going to be tough. Hopefully he runs good and comes out sound, which is more important to me.”

Clubman has breezed six times since mid-January for his return, his most recent a five-furlong bullet in 1:02 Feb. 21, the fastest of 19 horses. Xavier Perez is named to ride.

“He’s going to let me know after this race. His last couple races he wasn’t kicking at the end. He was like, ‘I want to do it, but I don’t want to do it.’ Hopefully he comes back to himself,” Sanchez-Salomon said. “I think he’s going to be all right. I think he’s going to be a better horse, more mature and everything. He’s a really, really happy horse and very sharp right now.”

Laurel will kick off the weekly national Stronach 5 wager with its eighth-race finale, an open, entry-level allowance for 4-year-olds and up sprinting 5 ½ furlongs that attracted a field of 13 led by lukewarm 4-1 program favorite Kingston Pike. Post time for Race 8 is 3:55 p.m.

The Stronach 5 continues with Race 7 from Gulfstream Park (4:12 p.m.), Race 3 from Santa Anita Park (4:35 p.m.) and Race 3 from Golden Gate Fields (4:53 p.m.), and wraps up with Gulfstream’s Race 9 (5:16 p.m.).