Breeders’ Cup Classic (Grade I) winner Bayern and Florida Derby winner (GI) Constitution headline a cast of 20 horses nominated to the $500,000-added Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) on Nov. 28. Named for Churchill Downs founder Col. M. Lewis Clark, the 1 1/8-mile dirt contest will be renewed for the 140th time as the featured event on “Black Friday” of the Fall Meet’s closing weekend.
Bayern prevailed in a controversial renewal of the Breeders’ Cup Classic but is an unlikely Clark starter, according to Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. Instead, he is pointing Rebel (GII) winner Hoppertunity to the Clark.
After taking Oaklawn’s Rebel and finishing second behind eventual Kentucky Derby-winner California Chrome in the Santa Anita Derby (GI), Hoppertunity was a highly-regarded contender for the Derby but was scratched from the race after a left-front foot issue was detected. Hoppertunity resumed training in September and made his return in an allowance optional claiming event on Oct. 29 at Santa Anita where he finished second beaten a half-length. Hopperunity has earned $622,720 from a 2-2-0 record through six starts.
Twin Creeks Racing Stables LLC and WinStar Farm LLC’s Constitution, like Hoppertunity, was another talented Kentucky Derby hopeful, until a hairline fracture was discovered in his front right cannon bone, eliminating him from Derby consideration. The Todd Pletcher trainee returned to racing Oct. 12 at Belmont Park where he finished fourth in an allowance optional claiming event, beaten by 1 ½ lengths. Through four starts, Constitution carries a record of 3-0-0 with earnings of $653,600.
Other Clark nominees include the Steve Asmussen-trained Tapiture, who was a game second, 1 ¼ lengths back of the impressive Goldencents in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI); Dale Romans trained duo of Oct. 25 Fayette (GII) winner Pick of the Litter and multiple graded stakes-winning millionaire Prayer for Relief, who finished 12th in the Classic; the Al Stall Jr.-trained Departing, the multiple Grade II winner and earner of more than $1.5 million who finished second to Pick of the Litter in the Fayette; the Chad Brown-trained duo of Suburban Handicap (GII) winner and Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI) runner-up Zivo and Easter Gift, who was third in last year’s Clark; and Cary Street, who impressively won the Las Vegas Marathon (GII) on the Breeders’ Cup undercard for trainer Brendan Walsh.
DON’T TELL SOPHIA, MOLLY MORGAN TOP LIST OF 23 FALLS CITY NOMS
Phil Sims and Jerry Namy’s Don’t Tell Sophia and Bill Cubbedge’s Molly Morgan highlight a cast of 23 fillies and mares nominated to the 99th running of the $200,000-added Falls City Handicap (GII) to be contested on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, Nov. 27.
Don’t Tell Sophia, who has banked $1,339,295 with a record of 23-11-5-3, captured an upset victory in the Oct. 5 Spinster (GI) at Keeneland and followed that with a runner-up performance in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI) where she finished 1 ¼ lengths behind Untapable. The 6-year-old mare by Congaree has provided quite the return on investment for her owners, who purchased her for $1,000 at the 2009 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. She finished second in last year’s Falls City behind Wine Princess.
The Dale Romans-trained Molly Morgan was an impressive 2 ¼-length winner in the $200,000 Chilukki (GII) beneath the Twin Spires on Nov. 1. Prior to that, she finished third behind Don’t Tell Sophia and Ria Antonia in the Spinster at Keeneland and ran second to Don’t Tell Sophia in the Sept. 6 Locust Grove at Churchill Downs. She carries a record of 7-4-6 through 26 starts and has earned $662,407.
Other notable Falls City nominees include Bob Baffert-trained Jojo Warrior, a multiple graded stakes winner of $371,981 who finished third in her last start at Parx in the Cotillion (GI) on Sept. 20; Tiz Windy, winner of the Oct. 4 Indiana Oaks (GII) in her last start for trainer Carl Nafzger; and Canadian-bred Strut the Course, trained by Barbara Minshall, who has won her last three starts by a combined 13 ¾ lengths at Woodbine, including her most recent score in the Maple Leaf (GIII) on Nov. 1.
COX REFLECTS ON LANDMARK YEAR
After capturing a pair of Friday night victories with Angie’s Prim Lady in Race 3 and Runs with Bulls in Race 4, Brad Cox tied trainers Mike Maker and Mark Casse for third place with six wins in the Churchill Downs trainer’s standings. Cox saddled his first graded winner when Carve took the Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap (GIII) on June 28 and his trainees have amassed $2,216,478 in earnings, a personal best for Cox.
“This has been my biggest year as a trainer by far,” Cox said. “We’ve had a lot more diversity in our clientele this year, which has given us a wider variety of horses. It ranges from a horse like Carve, who was my first graded stakes winner this year, on down to the $5,000 claimers. It’s a little bit of everything which gives us strength in numbers.”
While the Louisville-native Cox has been extremely pleased with the success of his horses in 2014, the conditioner did not mention a local training title to be high on his list of priorities this year.
“I really don’t have it in my plans to try and win a training title,” Cox said. “The main reason being that I only have around 40-45 horses, so when some of these trainers here are carrying between 100 and 120, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense to worry about it. If it happens, obviously it would be a great achievement, but if we finished second or third I’d still be very content with it. We finished fourth in the spring here and I thought that was awesome.
“That’s not to say we won’t still be active this meet. There are a lot of horses that ran earlier this meet that I hope to make another start with, and we plan to continue being competitive. But I’m not going to enter any horses with the sole intent of winning a training title.”
Both of Cox’s winners from Friday night were claimed, with Angie’s Prim Lady moving to the barn of trainer Tom Amoss and Runs with Bulls moving into the care of trainer Albert Dodge.
“We were okay with losing them,” Cox said. “We obviously knew that there was a shot of that happening and we were ready to accept it and thought both were very fair deals. We won both races and collected the claiming prices, so we’ll move on and hope to find some more good ones.”
EVENTS THIS WEEK: Sunday marks the return of the “Who’s the Champ? Betting Challenge” in the ITW area on the second floor of the Grandstand. The entry fee is $35 ($30 for TSC Elite members). Registration is from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the Churchill Downs Lounge. $2 Win/Place mythical wagers on Races 3-8. First prize: Fully paid spot in the Horse Player World Series in Las Vegas (includes a four-night stay in the Orleans Casino plus a $250 travel voucher). Second prize: $500 cash voucher. Third prize: $250 cash voucher. … Churchill Downs is offering free general admission to active or retired members of the United States armed services on Saturday and Sunday this week.
ON THE WORKTAB – Saturday’s Churchill Downs worktab featured a five-furlong breeze in 1:01.80 for Clark Handicap nominee Abraham for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. Also breezing five furlongs was West Coast Belle, who went in 1:02.20 for trainer Wayne Catalano. The recent winner of the Rags to Riches is nominated to the Nov. 29 Golden Rod (GII) on closing weekend.