The Clark Handicap (gr. II) is always a solid race and a good way to put an exclamation point on not only the Churchill Downs fall meet, but the older handicap division.
But this year, the $400,000 event has outdone even itself. With 14 entered, including three grade I winners and another four horses coming off graded stakes victories, it is difficult to imagine a deeper field than what has been assembled for Nov. 27, especially considering we are less than three weeks removed from the Breeders’ Cup.
What gives the Clark even more intrigue this year is the fact that three horses—Einstein, Macho Again, and Bullsbay—could be battling for an Eclipse Award. All three could certainly make a strong case as champion older horse with a victory in the 1 1/8-mile race.
West Point Thoroughbreds Macho Again comes in well rested, having last raced in the Oct. 3 Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) at Belmont Park. The 4-year-old son of Macho Uno finished fourth in that event, his chances likely compromised due to a slow pace. Macho Again’s victories in 2009 came in the New Orleans Handicap (gr. II) at Fair Grounds and the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) at Churchill when he defeated Einstein. The Dallas Stewart trainee was also runner-up to both Bullsbay in the Whitney Handicap (gr. I) and Rachel Alexandra in the Woodward (gr. I) when beaten only a head.
Overall, Macho Again is 3-1-0 from five career starts at Churchill. He has earned more than $1 million this season. Regular rider Robby Albarado has the mount.
“What a fun horse for us all to be associated with,” said West Point president Terry Finley. “He’s doing great after a slight sickness a few weeks before the Breeders’ Cup. He’s trained well and it’s his home track. We will have no excuses if we get beat.
“As for missing the Breeders’ Cup, sometimes things work out and sometimes they don't. With the thrills he's given us, we can't be greedy. We think he's had a very commendable campaign. We are proud of the fact that he will be in the mix for the Eclipse Award and just hope he gets the most votes. Any owner, if they were in our shoes, that told you they didn't care about winning the Eclipse Award, would be lying.”
Stronach Stable’s Einstein would certainly garner a lot of votes if he nailed down his third grade I score of the season. Winner of the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) and Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. IT) on the Churchill grass, Einstein also missed by a neck in the Sept. 6 Pacific Classic (gr. I) at Del Mar. Trainer Helen Pitts-Blasi gave no excuse for the 7-year-old’s poor performance in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) when he finished 11th after being in contention early in the race.
“I have no answer,” Pitts said of the Breeders’ Cup. “We couldn’t find anything.”
Pitts said Einstein’s solid Nov. 22 work at Churchill gives her hope that the lifetime earner of nearly $3 million will return to form in the Clark, a race he won by 1 1/2 lengths in 2008. However, the son of Spend a Buck will have to overcome the 14 post as well as being the 123-pound high weight—a tall order. And he will get a new rider, as Rajiv Maragh will be in the irons for the first time when the 7-2 morning-line favorite makes his 30th career start.
Like Macho Again, Einstein likes it at Churchill. He is 2-1-1 in four starts over the main track.
Of the three potential champions, Mitchell Ranch’s Bullsbay has had the most surprising campaign. The 5-year-old son of Tiznow has won three times this season, including victories in the Alysheba Stakes (gr. III) May 1 at Churchill and an 18-1 upset in the Whitney Aug. 8 at Saratoga. Bullsbay also turned in a solid effort when finishing third in the Woodward, beaten only 1 1/2 lengths.
Last out, Bullsbay disappointed in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) Nov. 7 at Santa Anita, finishing ninth after flattening out in the stretch. Trainer Graham Motion breezed the bay horse Nov. 23 at Fair Hills Training Center, his first official work since the Breeders’ Cup. Regular rider Jeremy Rose will have the call on Bullsbay, who has posted three wins in four starts at Churchill during his career.
Though the aforementioned entrants all have good chances, so do plenty of others, including a trio of 3-year-olds who seem to be improving with every start. Two of them, Blame and Misremembered, enter off graded stakes wins. Blame won Keeneland’s Fayette Stakes (gr. II) for trainer Albert Stall Jr., Oct. 31 and Misremembered set a 1 1/16-mile track record at Hoosier Park when winning the Indiana Derby (gr. II) Oct. 3 for Bob Baffert.
Also coming off graded stakes wins are Demarcation and Etched, who triumphed in the Ack Ack Handicap (gr. III) and Meadowland Cup (gr. II), respectively.
Post time for the Clark is slated for 4:29 p.m. EDT.
Also on the Churchill program is the $100,000 River City Handicap (gr. III) for 3-year-olds and up going nine furlongs on the turf. The top two candidates are Green Lantern Stables’ Karelian and Ellie Boje Farm’s Rahy's Attorney. Karelian, a 7-year-old gelded son of Bertrando, won the River City by 1 1/2 lengths a year ago and has made just two starts this season—a second in the Shadwell Turf Mile (gr. IT) and a sixth-place finish in the TVG Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. IT).
Rahy’s Attorney has won a pair of graded stakes on the Woodbine grass this season and enters off a victory in the restricted Bunty Lawless Stakes on Oct. 24.
$100,000 River City Handicap (gr. IIIT, Race 9, 3:29 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (Turf) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, Odds
1. Banrock (NY), K J Desormeaux, 119, T M Bush, 6/1
2. Wheels Up At Noon (FL), C H Borel, 115, P D Fout, 20/1
3. Wicked Style (FL), R Albarado, 116, G R Arnold, 5/1
4. Rahy's Attorney (ON), R C Landry, 121, I Black, 5/2
5. Simmard (KY), S Bridgmohan, 115, R L Attfield, 15/1
6. Rahystrada (KY), L R Goncalves, 114, B G Hughes, 30/1
7. Pleasant Strike (VA), C P DeCarlo, 116, T A Pletcher, 8/1
8. Brave Tin Soldier (KY), A Garcia, 117, K P McLaughlin, 8/1
9. Karelian (KY), R Maragh, 122, G R Arnold, 2/1
10. Cryptolight (KY), P Tolentino, 114, W N Martin, 50/1
$400,000 Clark Handicap (gr. I, Race 11, 4:29 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, Odds
1. You and I Forever (KY), J Valdivia Jr., 115, M D Wolfson, 20/1
2. Macho Again (FL), R Albarado, 121, D Stewart, 9/2
3. Giant Oak (IL), S Bridgmohan, 115, C M Block, 20/1
4. Demarcation (KY), J L Castanon, 116, P J McGee, 20/1
5. Blame (KY), J Theriot, 117, A M Stall Jr., 6/1
6. Anarko (CHI), L R Goncalves, 113, F J Seitz, 50/1
7. Anak Nakal (KY), J Bravo, 116, J Deegan, 30/1
8. Etched (KY), A Garcia, 120, K P McLaughlin, 6/1
9. Bullsbay (KY), J Rose, 119, H G Motion, 6/1
10. Kiss the Kid (KY), P Lopez, 118, A Tarrant, 15/1
11. Timber Reserve (KY), K J Desormeaux, 114, J C Kimmel, 20/1
12. Misremembered (KY), V Espinoza, 116, B Baffert, 8/1
13. Dubious Miss (KY), C H Borel, 116, P J McGee, 10/1
14. Einstein (BRZ), R Maragh, 123, H Pitts, 7/2