Giant Oak picked a good time to break his 14-race losing streak, as he was placed first in the $500,000 Clark Handicap (gr. I) (VIDEO) when stewards disqualified favored Successful Dan for interference Nov. 26 at Churchill Downs.
There were a pair of disqualifications in an action-packed and roughly-run 136th edition of the Clark. Successful Dan, who crossed the wire first by a head after dueling in deep stretch with Giant Oak, was placed third because of interfering with eventual runner-up Redding Colliery at several points during the 1 1/8-mile race. The original fourth-place finisher, Demarcation, was taken down and placed last after impeding the progress of stablemate Dubious Miss as the field of 11 turned for home. Both horses are trained by Paul McGee. Win Willy was eventually placed fourth.
When it was all said and done, Virginia H. Tarra Trust’s Illinois homebred Giant Oak was awarded his first graded stakes win and his first victory since taking the May 23, 2009, Arlington Classic. The 4-year-old son of Giant's Causeway
had hit the board four times during his lengthy losing streak including a pair of runner-up efforts in graded stakes company earlier this year, but had failed to break through for trainer Chris Block. That all changed during a bizarre running of the Clark, which had trouble on both turns.
set the pace under Freddie Lenclud, taking the field through moderate splits of :24.64, :48.92, and 1:13.63. Duke of Mischief
pressed the leader while Dubious Miss and Demarcation raced alongside in the next group. Behind them were Redding Colliery and a very rank Successful Dan. With Julien Leparoux aboard the 9-5 favorite, Successful Dan came out on Redding Colliery and Anna Napravnik rounding the first turn, making significant contact.
Giant Oak, who was ninth through a half-mile under Shaun Bridgmohan, began to make up ground heading into the final turn and would eventually enter the stretch from a five-wide position. But coming out of that final turn the still head strong Successful Dan made contact with Redding Colliery for the second time, this time on his way to taking the lead in upper stretch. Further to the inside Demarcation and Kent Desormeaux nearly caused Dubious Miss to fall near the three-sixteenths pole when he veered sharply to his inside causing his rival to stumble badly.
Meanwhile, Giant Oak was flying from the center of the racetrack and caught Successful Dan inside the sixteenth pole. Those two bumped briefly before Successful Dan gamely held off his rival. It took nearly 10 minutes before stewards awarded Giant Oak the victory.
The final time for the distance on the fast dirt was 1:50.82.
“I was right outside of it all. I saw what was happening," Bridgmohan said. "I thought both horses ran hard to the wire. It was all out of my hands. I was hoping I got put up. Both horses ran hard. It’s just unfortunate things like this happen in racing.
"If he shows up and gives it to you there is no telling how much talent this horse has. I always tell Chris one of these days he is going to show up and it just happened to be in a grade I today.”
Charles Lopresti was extremely upset by the stewards decision to take down Successful Dan, who he trained to a pair of convincing wins including the Oct. 30 Fayette (gr. II) at Keeneland
“It’s a bad call. It’s a very bad call," he said. "My horse got knocked over. That’s a terrible call. I mean, up there in the stretch that horse came over on us and knocked us into the other horse (Redding Colliery). And then after that, we’re clearly the winner. He ran a huge race. What can I say? I can’t say anything else.”
Despite being winless in his first eight races of 2010, Giant Oak was sent off as the favorite in the Nov. 5 Breeders’ Cup Marathon (gr. III) when finishing fourth. In his previous two races the chestnut colt was second in the Washington Park Handicap (gr. III) on the Arlington Park Polytrack and Hawthorne Gold Cup (gr. II). Though he had not won in four career starts at Churchill, Giant Oak was second in the Kentucky Jockey Club (gr. II) as a juvenile, fourth when beaten only 1 1/4 lengths by Blame in last year’s Clark, and fourth to Blame once again in the grade I Stephen Foster Handicap earlier this year. Giant Oak had fired two bullet works over the Churchill oval coming into the Clark.
Giant Oak, who is out of the Crafty Prospector mare Crafty Oak, picked up his fourth win in 23 lifetime starts and increased his earnings to $956,677.
"This has been a long time coming," Block said. "This ol’ horse has had a rough, rough go of it. He’s had some rough trips, but we’ve always known he loved Churchill Downs and I really felt good about today. The horse trained really great from the (Breeders’ Cup) Marathon to this. His two works were just really, really good here. I felt coming into it if the pace was solid, and it was OK, I knew he’d come with his run. We just need him to finish the race.
"Shaun said today even when he got up to (Successful Dan) he put his head up and just kind of hung with that horse instead of finishing the deal. But this is sweet to get. This is very sweet to get.. He’s going to Ocala on Sunday for probably about 45 days' rest, then probably back to Fair Grounds to get him ready for 2011."
The winner paid $24.20, $10, and $5. The exacta (4-5) returned $130.20 and the trifecta (4-5-3) was worth $488.80.