Pat Day rides Surfside following an easy victory in the Grade I Hollywood Starlet Stakes on Dec. 19, 1999, at Hollywood Park.

Pat Day rides Surfside following an easy victory in the Grade I Hollywood Starlet Stakes on Dec. 19, 1999, at Hollywood Park.

Associated Press/ Benoit Photo

Surfside, Aptitude Highlight Clark Field

Edited from Churchill Downs' press release

Early this year, Overbrook Farm's Surfside looked like a good bet to challenge the finest males of her generation in the 126th Kentucky Derby (gr. I) at Churchill Downs, but injury knocked her off of the Derby Trail well before the first Saturday in May. But Surfside will have her showdown with the boys under the Twin Spires and it will come on Friday in the 126th running of the $400,000-added Clark Handicap (gr. II). The 1 1/8-mile race lost a bit of its luster at midweek, however, when Mike Pegram's Captain Steve, the third-place finisher in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) and the Clark highweight at 120 pounds, was declared from the race by trainer Bob Baffert.

The daughter of Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew and the champion mare Flanders has been established as the 2-1 morning line favorite for the Clark by Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia. She will face a strong group of rivals that includes Juddmonte Farm's 3-year-old Aptitude, the runner-up in the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) and the second choice in the morning line at 5-2. Older foes in the Clark include Bruce Lunsford and Yoshiyuki Ito's Vision and Verse, the third-place finisher in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) and runner-up in the 1999 Belmont Stakes (gr. I), and Sharon Hild's Dust On The Bottle, the upset winner of the Hawthorne Gold Cup (gr. III).

The Clark Handicap, like the Kentucky Derby (GI) and Kentucky Oaks (GI), has been run each year since Churchill Downs' inaugural race meet in 1875, when the track was known as the Louisville Jockey Club. A win by Surfside would make her the 12th filly or mare to defeat males in the long history of the Clark. The most recent of those was William Floyd's Fairway Flyer, who whipped the boys in the Clark as a 3-year-old in 1972.

The Clark Handicap is the featured 11th race on a 12-race Friday card that marks the midpoint of popular three-day Thanksgiving holiday weekend that closes Churchill Downs' 24-day Fall Meet. Post time is 12:40 p.m. (EST).

Bone chips in an ankle cost Surfside a shot at the Kentucky Derby last spring, but she returned to competition in October with an impressive runner-up finish in the seven furlong Raven Run at Keeneland before she chased stablemate Spain home in the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) on Nov. 4.  Before her injury, the Overbrook homebred had scored a trio of stakes wins over fillies -- including Grade I victories in the Las Virgenes and Santa Anita Oaks at Santa Anita. Lukas is gambling that an impressive performance by his filly against males in the Clark will improve Surfside's chances of earning an Eclipse Award as the nation's finest 3-year-old filly.

"She's got pretty good credentials and we think she's in the running for it anyhow, but that would probably put her over the top -- at least in some eyes," Lukas said. "She'd be the only one in her division to step out in top class company. If she wins it she's going to have to be considered, I think."

Lukas has never been shy about running top fillies against males and scored one of his four Kentucky Derby victories with the filly Winning Colors in 1988.  He leads fellow Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott 55-54 for the distinction of being the all-time leader in stakes wins by a trainer at Churchill Downs, but Lukas is still looking for his first victory in the Clark.  Regular jockey Pat Day will ride Surfside, who has been assigned 113 pounds for her match against the boys.

If Surfside is to give Lukas a Clark Handicap victory, she will have to defeat the regally-bred Aptitude. Juddmonte's homebred son of A.P. Indy took the summer off following his runner-up finish in the Derby and Belmont and returned to competition with a 2 3/4-length victory in a 1 1/4-mile allowance race on Oct. 29 at Churchill Downs.  Trained by Hall of Fame conditioner Bobby Frankel, Aptitude has been assigned 115 pounds and will be ridden by Victor Espinoza.

The Clark includes four horses that competed in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) at Churchill Downs: Vision and Verse (eighth), Pine Dance (10th), Dust On The Bottle (11th) and Guided Tour (12th).

The field for the 126th Clark Handicap, in order of post position, consists of: Guided Tour, 114, Larry Melancon; Pine Dance, 113, Mark Guidry; Jadada, 111, Jon Court; Aptitude, 115, Espinoza; Dust On The Bottle, 114, Tim Doocy; Testing, 112, Jose Velez, Jr.; Surfside, 113, Day; Vision and Verse, 113, Herb Castillo, Jr.; and Maysville Slew, 113, Calvin Borel.