Grade I winners Perfect Drift and Total Impact will face rising star Suave and a strong group of 3-year-olds in Friday's 131st running of the $500,000-added Clark Handicap (gr. II) at Churchill Downs.
The 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds and up dates to the historic track's inaugural meet in 1875 and, like the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks, has been renewed each year without interruption since that first running. The Clark, named for track founder Meriwether Lewis Clark, is scheduled as the 11th race on a 12-race holiday program.
The most accomplished member of the strong field of 12 entered in the Clark is Perfect Drift, Stonecrest Farm's winner of the 2003 running of the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) and third to Saint Liam in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) at Belmont Park. Mohammed Saud Al Kabeer and Bridport, S.A.'s (Lillian Solari) Total Impact, a Chilean-bred that took the 2004 renewal of the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) at Hollywood Park, is attempting to return to that form after an off-year in 2005 so far.
Other strong contenders include Jay Em Ess Stable's Suave, winner of the Saratoga Breeders' Cup (gr. II) and a good fifth in the Breeders' Cup Classic, and William S. Farish, James Elkins, Jr. and W. Temple Webber, Jr.'s Alumni Hall, winner of the Fayette (gr. III) at Keeneland.
The Clark field also includes several accomplished 3-year-olds that are stepping up to face older foes. They include Robert LaPenta's Andromeda's Hero, runner-up to Afleet Alex in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I); Elisabeth Alexander's Magna Graduate, winner of the Discovery and Pegasus (both gr. III) handicaps; the Allen E. Paulson Living Trust's A.P. Arrow, runner-up in the Super Derby (gr. II); and E.J. Sukley's Purim, winner of the Arlington Classic (gr. IIIT) on the turf at Arlington Park.
Perfect Drift, a 6-year-old Dynaformer
gelding trained by Murray Johnson, pushed his career earnings to $4,232,840 with his third-place run in the Breeders' Cup Classic. He has a career record of 11-9-5 in 34 races, including third-place finishes to War Emblem in the 2002 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and to Saint Liam in last year's Clark.
"He couldn't be better," said Johnson. "We'll be ready for Friday."
Mark Guidry will ride Perfect Drift, who will carry high weight of 122 pounds and is listed as the mild 5-2 favorite.
The Clark will be the third start for Total Impact, a 7-year-old son of Stuka, since trainer Laura de Seroux gave him a break following a disappointing fifth-place finish in the San Antonio Handicap (gr. II) at Santa Anita in early February. He returned to competition with a win in the Windy Sands Handicap at Del Mar and then ran fourth to Rock Hard Ten in the Goodwood Breeders' Cup (gr. II) at Oak Tree at Santa Anita.
De Seroux interpreted Total Impact's poor effort in the San Antonio as a sign that he was weary from a 2004 campaign that included a trip to Tokyo for the Japan Cup Dirt (Jpn-I), where he finished fourth. She said her veteran star is back on his game for the Clark.
"It's a prestigious race, the purse is good and he's as good as he's ever been right now," said De Seroux. "Timing-wise, from our last race (in the Oct. 10 Goodwood), it's perfect for us."
Total Impact, an 8-1 risk in the Clark, has a record of 6-9-2 in 26 races with earnings of $1,694,633. Garrett Gomez will ride Total Impact at 117 pounds.
Suave, a 4-year-old son of A.P. Indy
, will attempt to give Louisville-born trainer Paul J. McGee his second victory in the Clark. A win by Balthazar B. in 1988 was McGee's first major stakes win. McGee thinks Suave can earn another Clark victory.
"No doubt it's going to be a tough race, but I see my horse as the horse to beat," said McGee. "If he goes out there and runs like a think he will, he'll be tough to beat."
A victory by Suave, the 3-1 second choice, would make McGee's colt a millionaire. Suave has crafted a 5-5-2 record in 20 races, including a win in Churchill's Northern Dancer (gr. III) in 2004, and has earned $999,883. Leading rider Rafael Bejarano will ride Suave, who finished fourth at odds of 39-1 in last year's Clark.$500,000-added Clark Handicap (gr. II, Race 11, 4:29 p.m.), 3 & up, 1 /8 miles
PP. Horse (weight), Jockey, ML Odds
1. A.P. Arrow (111), John Jacinto, 20-1
2. Purim (114), Gary Stevens, 20-1
3. Perfect Drift (122), Mark Guidry, 5-2
4. Go Now (112), Craig Perret, 20-1
5. Magna Graduate (116), John Velazquez, 4-1
6. Stolen Time (113), Mike Smith, 30-1
7. Suave (118), Rafael Bejarano, 3-1
8. M B Sea (114), Corey Lanerie, 15-1
9. Chippewa Trail (112), Jesus Castanon, 30-1
10. Alumni Hall (117), Robby Albarado, 5-1
11. Andromeda's Hero (113), John McKee, 12-1
12. Total Impact (117), Garrett Gomez, 8-1