Premium Tap Tops Dozen Entered in Clark Handicap

Edited Churchill Downs release
George Kline, Peter Alevizos and David Whelihan's Premium Tap, third to Invasor in the Breeders' Cup Classic powered by Dodge (gr. I) at Churchill Downs on Nov. 4, returns to the historic Louisville track on Friday in search of a season-ending grade I victory when he faces 10 rivals in the 132nd running of the $500,000-added Clark Handicap presented by Norton Healthcare.

This year's renewal of the Clark marks the first time in its long history in which the race is recognized as a grade I event by the American Graded Stakes Committee. The 2006 running also marks the first year of a partnership in which Louisville, Ky.-based Norton Healthcare will serve as the first-ever presenting sponsor of the Clark, which is traditionally the racing highlight of the Churchill Downs Fall Meet.

The 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds and up is named for track founder Meriwether Lewis Clark and, like the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Kentucky Oaks (gr. I), has been run annually without interruption since first meet at the historic track in 1875. It is the second of four major races in Churchill Downs' "Big Four Stakes Weekend" and heads a 12-race holiday program that begins with a special 1st race post time of 11:30 a.m. (EST).

The John Kimmel-trained Premium Tap emerged as one of America's top older horses with a victory in the Woodward (gr. I) at Saratoga. He validated that effort with his strong third-place finish behind Invasor and Bernardini in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

"He ran a great race, but I think he might be able to run better," said Kimmel. "He maybe was kind of close to a pretty contentious pace, and that might have spelled the problem there. He was up real close and anything that was up close with him stopped and faded out of there."

Kent Desormeaux, who won the Clark in 1988 aboard Balthazar B., is scheduled to ride Premium Tap. Handicapper Mike Battaglia has installed the 4-year-old son of Pleasant Tap as the 5-2 favorite in the field of a dozen accomplished older horses.

Premium Tap, who will break from post four, will carry high weight of 122 pounds as he attempts to improve on a career record of 5-3-2 in 16 races. A strong effort in the Clark would boost Premium Tap's career earnings past the $1 million mark. He earned $500,000 for his third place finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic to more than double his current earnings to $977,280.

If Premium Tap is to win the Clark, he will likely have to pass Arthur B. Hancock, III's speedy Wanderin Boy at some point during the race. The Nick Zito-trained son of Seeking the Gold finished second to Bernardini in his most recent start in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) at Belmont Park and won the Brooklyn Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) prior to that. Jockey Javier Castellano returns to Churchill Downs to ride Wanderin Boy, who has won seven of 14 races and earned $648,259.

The 7-2 second choice in the morning line for the Clark, Wanderin Boy will attempt to give Hancock and Zito their second victory in the Clark Handicap. The duo won the 2003 renewal of the race with Quest. Zito will also saddle Robert LaPenta's Andromeda's Hero (20-1) in this year's Clark.

Two-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher won his first Clark Handicap last year when Elisabeth Alexander's Magna Graduate outlasted Suave in a memorable stretch duel. Pletcher will bid for his second consecutive Clark victory when he sends Marie and Aaron Jones' Master Command and the Allen E. Paulson Living Trust's A.P. Arrow into the starting gate on Friday. Master Command enters the Clark off a breakthrough victory in the $500,000 Meadowlands Cup (gr. II), which was the first graded stakes win for the improving colt. The 4-year-old son of A.P. Indy led throughout in the 1 1/8-mile race and won by 1 ¼-lengths in the sizzling time of 1:46.21.

John Velazquez will ride Master Command, who will carry 120 pounds as he attempts to improve on a record of 5-2-2 in 11 races and career earnings of $512,420. The chestnut colt was unlucky at the post draw and must break from the outside gate in the 12-horse field. He was listed as the 5-1 third choice in Battaglia's morning line.

A.P. Arrow (15-1), Pletcher's other hope, closed well to run fifth in last year's Clark when was trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas. He has one win in three starts this year for Pletcher and will be ridden from post six by Rafael Bejarano.

Louisville-born trainer Dale Romans will seek his first victory in one of the biggest races at his hometown track when he sends out a trio of Clark Handicap contenders headed by Carolyn Sue Bruder and Delmar Daubs' Bright One. The 3-year-old son of Dance Brightly won the $750,000 West Virginia Derby (gr. III) at Mountaineer Park and has fashioned a record of 4-1-0 in six races with earnings of $575,074. The colt has three victories in four starts at Churchill Downs that include a win in the one-mile Forestry Handicap and a 3 ½-length romp in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race on Nov. 2.

"He's ready, there's nothing else to run him in and it's time for him to step up," said Romans. "You know he's still lightly raced and will be a lot less seasoned than the rest of them in there. But he has so much natural talent that I think that by the end of next year, he's going to be heard from."

Romans will also saddle Wiggins (30-1) and M B Sea (50-1).

Other major contenders in the 132nd Clark Handicap include Millennium Farm's Super Frolic (8-1); Wild Desert (8-1), winner of Canada's Queen's Plate at three and runner-up to Master Command in the Meadowlands Cup last time out; and It's No Joke and Irene's Mon, the 1-2 finishers in Churchill Downs' Emirates Airline Ack Ack Handicap (gr. III) on the Breeders' Cup World Championships undercard on Nov. 4.

Post position--Horse (weight), Jockey, ML odds
1--Super Frolic (118), Shaun Bridgmohan, 8-1
2--Bright One (115), Mark Guidry, 8-1
3--Wanderin Boy (119), Javier Castellano, 7-2
4--Premium Tap (122), Kent Desormeaux, 5-2
5--It's No Joke (119), Robby Albarado, 10-1
6--A.P. Arrow (113), Rafael Bejarano, 15-1
7--Wiggins (114), Brian Hernandez, Jr., 30-1
8--Andromeda's Hero (114), Eddie Castro, 20-1
9--Wild Desert (118), Cornelio Velasquez, 8-1
10--Irene's Mon (111), Julien Leparoux, 30-1
11--M B Sea (113), Calvin Borel, 50-1
12--Master Command (120), John Velazquez, 5-1

Morning Line odds by Mike Battaglia