Clark or Cigar for Crafty Shaw?

Edited from Churchill Downs notes

For those who follow Kentucky racing, it's a lesson that was etched in stone a year ago: if there's an autumn chill in the air, Crafty Shaw is heating up. Charles Cella's 5-year-old stakes star has notched three victories in his last four races, including a romp in Hoosier Park's $100,000-added Schaefer Mile on Saturday night, and trainer Peter Vestal said his "cold weather horse" is on track for another bid for the $500,000-added Clark Handicap (gr. II) on Nov. 28. The son of Crafty Prospector just missed winning that race a year ago, falling a neck short of multiple grade I winner Lido Palace and Vestal believes that Crafty Shaw is as good now as he has ever been.

"There's a combination of things that makes him that way," said Vestal. "One is the fall weather. He is a cold weather horse--he likes that. And he loves to run, so the closer you put his races together, the better he likes. Of course, you can't do that year-round--especially in hot weather. But I think he likes this time of the year better than any other time."

Crafty Shaw launched his current autumn hot streak with a win in the Turfway Fall Championship (gr. III) at Turfway Park. He followed that with a fifth-place finish in allowance company on the turf at Keeneland, then returned to the main track at Churchill Downs to edge graded stakes winner Pass Rush in an allowance race and then scored his second consecutive win in Hoosier Park's Schaefer Mile. Vestal believes that it is no coincidence that Crafty Shaw notched all three of those victories under the handling of veteran jockey Craig Perret, who is unbeaten on the horse. He said Perret's confident handling of the sometimes anxious Crafty Shaw has made a difference.

"He relaxed better for Craig up there (at Hoosier Park) the other night than he has for anybody in the last two years," said Vestal. "He had him fourth down the backstretch, about 4 1/2 or five lengths off the lead, he wasn't fighting him and, when he pushed the button, there he went." Perret's success on Crafty Shaw is clearly good news for Vestal, but there's bad news in that Perret may not be available for the race. Another of Perret's autumn highlights is an upset victory aboard Michael Bruder's M B Sea in the Fayette Stakes (gr. III) at Keeneland, and Perret has already committed to ride him in the Clark.

"He rode him three times and won on him three times," said Vestal. "The horse has responded as well or better to his handling than anybody that's ever been on him--including Pat Day." The Clark is not the only option available to Cella and Vestal for Crafty Shaw. Vestal said they will also strongly look at a possible run in the $350,000-added Cigar Mile (gr. I) at Aqueduct on Nov. 29.

"Mr. Cella, myself and the connections like it because of the distance," said Vestal. "A mile-and-an-eighth is stretching him a little. The best mile-and-an-eighth race he ever ran--probably the best race he ever ran--was the Clark last year. The mile is awfully enticing."

The New York option could conceivably keep Perret in the saddle aboard Crafty Shaw, but Vestal said a final decision on whether to run at home or ship to Aqueduct has not been made. A possible field of up to 10 horses is shaping up for the 129th running of the Clark Handicap. Along with Crafty Shaw, M B Sea and likely favorite Medaglia d'Oro, others considered likely for the nine-furlong Clark include Tenpins, During, Quest, Quest Star, Devil Time, Request For Parole and Snake Mountain.

Sam and Jeri Knighton's Request For Parole, the fifth-place finisher in the 2002 Kentucky Derby (gr. I), has arrived at Churchill Downs for the Clark. The son of Judge T.C., who has been trained this year by Stanley Hough, is back in the care of trainer Steve Margolis, who saddled Request for Parole in the Kentucky Derby.

D'Amico Eager For Reunion With Take Charge Lady

Veteran Kentucky jockey Tony D'Amico has enjoyed some of the greatest moments of his career since he hooked up with trainer Ken McPeek. The opportunity to ride Select Stable's Take Charge Lady for McPeek ranks at the top of those highlights. D'Amico has ridden the two-time winner of Keeneland's Spinster (gr. I) nine times in her 21 career races and will be back in the irons aboard the 4-year-old Dehere filly in the 88th running of the $300,000-added Falls City Handicap (gr. II). The Thanksgiving Day staple opens Churchill Downs' $1.2 million "Big Four Weekend." The Falls City could be the final start for Jerry and Feye Bach's filly, who has a record of 11-7-0 in her 21-race career.

"I'm glad to have been asked to get to ride her in her last start," said D'Amico. "I thank Kenny and Jerry for the wonderful opportunity."

D'Amico was aboard Take Charge Lady in nine of her first 10 races and the filly was 6-2-0 in those starts. That string included a runner-up finish in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) and wins in the Ashland (gr. I) and Alcibiades (gr. II) at Keeneland, the Silverbulletday (gr. III) and Fair Grounds Oaks (gr. II) at the Fair Grounds, and the Dogwood (gr. III) at Churchill Downs. The latter, which was run on May 25 of last year, marked the 48-year-old D'Amico's most recent opportunity to ride Take Charge Lady in a race until next week's Falls City.

"Riding her has been one of the biggest thrills of my career," D'Amico said. "She's probably one of best fillies I've ever sat on in my life. It's great to be in the limelight and she's one of the best things every to happen to me in my whole career."

If the Falls City indeed turns out to be a final bow for Take Charge Lady, D'Amico's moment will undoubtedly be bittersweet. But the veteran jockey will never forget the thrill of riding or watching McPeek's star. "Kenny's done a wonderful job keeping her on top of her game for so long," said D'Amico. "Every time she comes out to run, she shows up."

Barn Talk

Darley Stud's Firth of Lorne arrived from California on Tuesday to run in Saturday's $150,000-added Cardinal Handicap (gr. III) for older fillies and mares on the turf. The Irish-bred daughter of Danehill was the runner-up to Zenda in last year's French 1000 Guineas at Longchamp, but did not race again for 13 months. Now trained by Eoin Harty, Firth of Lorne returned to competition with a fourth-place finish in an optional claiming race at Del Mar and shipped north to Bay Meadows to win an optional claimer on turf on Sept. 14...Old Friends, Inc.'s Ilha Grande had been booked for the same flight as Firth of Lorne, but did not make the trip for trainer Paulo Lobo... Greg England's Cardinal contender Janeian arrived at Churchill Downs overnight following a van ride from Chicago...Trainer Patrick Byrne said the racing year is over for Indiana-bred star Pass Rush. Byrne said the son of Crown Ambassador was due for some farm rest following a dull fifth-place finish in the Schaefer Mile at Hoosier Park.