Shackleford faces nine in Clark in career finale
Outside of the Donn, Shackleford turned in disappointing efforts in only two other starts this term. Reportedly disliking the mud when trailing in the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap, the chestnut bobbled leaving the gate in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile last time and never fully recovered in that two-turn event at Santa Anita November 3.
Preferring to stick closer to home rather than travel to New York Saturday for the Grade 1 Cigar Mile, Shackleford will carry top weight of 120 pounds in the Clark with Jesus Castanon regaining the mount for the first time since the Met Mile.
"I wanted to run him at Churchill Downs and didn't want to ship him," trainer Dale Romans said. "He's doing good here right now and he likes this racetrack. I think he'll run big and the 1 1/8 miles might be a little easier on him pace wise than the (Cigar) Mile."
Pool Play, who captured the 2011 Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap in his only prior race under the Twin Spires, enters off an eighth-place effort in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Classic. Undoubtedly hindered to some degree by the speed-favoring nature of the Santa Anita strip, the seven-year-old had preceded that race with an upset win in the Grade 2 Hawthorne Gold Cup over 1 1/4 miles. Second in the Gold Cup was returning foe Cease, a stakes winner who finished third in the Grade 1 Woodward two back.
The Clark lost some luster Tuesday with the announcement that Neck 'n Neck, recent winner of the Grade 3 Ack Ack Handicap and Grade 2 Indiana Derby, would be sidelined indefinitely after fracturing a sesamoid following a workout last weekend. There will still be plenty of sophomore representation in the Clark, with Take Charge Indy and Bourbon Courage both looking for their first stakes wins against older horses.
Lunar Victory, owned by Juddmonte Farms, will make a rare venture into open company for the Clark. Since his re-importation last year, the Bill Mott trainee has made six of his eight starts against New York-bred foes. Never worse than second since his return to these shores, the son of Speightstown has captured the Empire Classic and Evan Shipman for state-breds and prevailed in both open company attempts against allowance foes.
The veteran multiple Grade 2 winner Mission Impazible, who finished second in both the Stephen Foster and the Clark in 2011, has raced just once in the past five months, finishing second in a third-level allowance at Belmont Park on October 25. The gray appears to have lost a step this season and is winless since taking the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap in March 2011.
The Clark field is rounded out by the D. Wayne-Lukas trained longshot Eye of the Leopard, whose last stakes win occurred in the 2009 Queen's Plate.
Earlier on Friday's card, multiple Grade 3 winner Salty Strike heads a field of seven fillies and mares in the $65,000 Dream Supreme over six furlongs. The Kenny McPeek-trained filly turned in a rare dull effort over the Churchill strip last time when third as the favorite in the Grade 2 Chilukki.
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