A trio of contenders for the Nov. 29 running of the $500,000-added Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (gr. I)—Magic City Thoroughbred Partners' Golden Ticket, Bourbon Lane Stable's Bourbon Courage, and Donegal Racing's Finnegans Wake—took advantage of dry weather and a fast track on the morning of Nov. 23 to turn in their final works in preparation for the premiere race of Churchill Downs' 25-day autumn meet.
Golden Ticket, fresh off a runner-up finish in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) for trainer Ken McPeek, worked five furlongs in company with stablemate Flashy American, Preston Stables' 4-year-old filly who will be among the favorites for $150,000-added Falls City Handicap (gr. II), the Nov. 28 Thanksgiving Day feature for fillies and mares ages 3 and up.
The duo covered the distance in 1:01 with fractional clockings of :12 and :36 2/5, tying as the second-fastest of 39 at the distance on the day. Golden Ticket, a 4-year-old son of Speightstown who dead-heated for victory with Alpha in the 2012 Travers Stakes (gr. I) and ran second to 2012 Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) winner Fort Larned in this year's $500,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) at Churchill, was assigned 120 pounds for the Clark, six fewer than the high-weighted multiple grade I winner Game On Dude and three less than the impost for 2013 Breeders' Cup Classic runner-up and 2013 Travers winner Will Take Charge.
Bourbon Courage breezed four furlongs in :47 4/5 under jockey Corey Lanerie, who will ride the Kellyn Gorder-trained Lion Heart 4-year-old in the Clark.
The work by Bourbon Courage ranked as the second-fastest of 71 at the distance, and the colt's internal fractions were timed in :12 and :24 2/5 and he galloped our five furlongs in 1:00 3/5 and six furlongs in 1:14 2/5.
"The horse is doing well," Gorder said. "I know we'll play the role of underdog, but that's OK. We're happy with where our horse is and I'm anxious to see him run again."
Bourbon Courage finished third to Preakness (gr. I) and Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) winner Shackleford and runner-up Take Charge Indy, winner of the 2012 Florida Derby (gr. I), in last year's Clark. He will attempt to break a six-race losing streak in the Clark that dates to a victory in last year's Super Derby (gr. II) and comes into the race off a runner-up finish in a Churchill allowance race Oct. 31—his first start in six months.
"He definitely needed that race last time and came out of it well," Gorder said. "He's put in some nice breezes since then, he was able today to get a good racetrack and he's ready to roll."
Bourbon Courage will bring a record of 12-3-4-3 and earnings of $841,844 into the Clark. His other races this year include a runner-up finish in the Donn Handicap (gr. I) and a third-place run in the Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II), both won by Graydar, and a third-place finish to Take Charge Indy in Churchill's Alysheba (gr. II) on Kentucky Oaks Day.
Finnegans Wake worked a sharp five furlongs in :59 4/5 under former jockey Tammy Fox, which was the fastest move of 39 works at the distance on Saturday.
Trainer Dale Romans was very happy with the quick move by Finnegans Wake, a 4-year-old son of Powerscourt that he described as "possibly definite" for Friday's Clark.
"He's not the best work horse in the world, so when he's sharp like that he usually runs good," Romans said.
Finnegans Wake comes into the race off a fourth-place finish behind Nikki's Sandcastle over synthetic Polytrack in the Hagyard Fayette Stakes (gr. II) at Keeneland on Oct. 26. He has yet to win in six 2013 races, most of which have come against top-notch competition on the grass, including fourth places finishes behind turf stars Point of Entry in the Woodford Reserve Manhattan (gr. IT), Boisterous in the Man o' War (gr. IT) and Real Solution in the Arlington Million (gr. IT), and a runner-up finish to Hyper in Belmont Park's Bowling Green Handicap (gr. IIT).
Romans scored his first win in the 1 1/8-mile Clark last year with Shackleford, who was the bettors' second choice in what would be the final race of the classic winner's career. Even with his mpressive work on dirt, Finnegans Wake will be an outsider in Friday's Clark.
"We're coming in with different circumstances than last year, but the pressure won't be quite as tough," Romans said. "He likes this racetrack and he's doing good. I know there are two monsters in there, but we'll see what happens."