In his final career start, classic winner Shackleford will try to add one more highlight Nov. 23 in a compelling edition of the Clark Handicap presented by Norton Healthcare (gr. I) at Churchill Downs.
Winner of the 2011 Preakness Stakes (gr. I), Shackleford captured another one of America’s great races this season with a nose victory in the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) at Belmont Park. To secure the third grade I win of his career in the Clark, the 4-year-old Forestry colt will have to bounce back after three straight losses including off-the-board finishes in two of those efforts.
Trainer Dale Romans chose the Clark over the Cigar Mile (gr. I) at Aqueduct as the final race for Shackleford, who will stand at Darby Dan Farm next season. Romans believes keeping Shackleford at home for his final start will give him a chance to return to top form after a seventh-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) at Santa Anita Park.
“I wanted to run him at Churchill Downs and didn’t want to ship him,” 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.”
Owned by Mike Lauffer, Bill Cubbedge, and Phillips Racing Partnership, Shackleford will be making his first start at the Louisville track since defeating champion sprinter Amazombie in the Churchill Downs Stakes (gr. II) on the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) undercard. Shackleford is the highweight at 120 pounds.
Jesus Castanon, who was aboard for Shackleford’s Preakness victory, will guide him from post three.
“He ranks right up there with some of the best horses I’ve trained,” Romans said. “He’s done all he needs to do, but it’ll be hard to see him go. Horses like him are hard to replace.”
While Shackleford is winding up his splendid career, the connections of Take Charge Indy hope the 3-year-old can use the Clark as a springboard into next season. The Florida Derby (gr. I) winner set all the fractions in the Fayette Stakes (gr. II) on Oct. 27 on the Keeneland Polytrack before yielding late and holding third. The race was Take Charge Indy’s first since finishing off the board in the Kentucky Derby and his first start against older horses.
“He got so much out of (the Fayette),” trainer Pat Byrne said of the A.P. Indy colt who is out of multiple grade I winner Take Charge Lady. “I bet he’s five or six lengths better (now). I was so apprehensive going into the Fayette off a six-month layoff, but I could only train him so much. He nearly pulled it off.”
Calvin Borel, who enters the week just four wins shy of 5,000 career victories, will ride Take Charge Indy.
The Clark also has attracted Pool Play, who won last year’s Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) at Churchill. The 7-year-old son of Silver Deputy enters off an off-the-board finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I).
“Pool Play loves Churchill Downs,” said trainer Mark Casse. “It’s coming back a little quick (20 days), but I think he just kind of went around the track in California. Also, this race is hard to pass up when we know he likes it here.”
Bourbon Lane Stable and Wayne Lynn’s Bourbon Courage enters the Clark off a runner-up finish to Neck ‘n Neck in the Indiana Derby (gr. II). Prior to that effort, the son of Lion Heart won the Super Derby (gr. II) at Louisiana Downs for trainer Kellyn Gorder.
“(The Clark) has been our big target,” Gorder said. “It’s kind of like our Breeders’ Cup.”
Neck ‘n Neck also had been pointing to the Clark but will miss the race because of a sesamoid injury that will require surgery.
$400,000 Clark Handicap presented by Norton Healthcare (gr. I) (Race 11, approximately 5:35 p.m. EST) 3yo&up, 1 1/8m
Post, Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Pool Play (ON), C. Lanerie, 118, M. Casse
2. Eye of the Leopard (ON), J Court, 115, D.W. Lukas
3. Shackleford (KY), J. Castanon, 120, D. Romans
4. Bourbon Courage (KY), L. Goncalves, 117, K. Gorder
5. Cease (KY), M. Mena, 117, A. Stall Jr.
6. Take Charge Indy (KY), C. Borel, 117, P. Byrne
7. Fast Falcon (KY), S. Bridgmohan, 113, N. Zito
8. Stealcase (KY), B. Hernandez Jr., 115, M. Casse
9. Mission Impazible (KY), J. Castellano, 115, T. Pletcher
10. Lunar Victory (NY) J. Alvarado, 116, W. Mott