Preston Stables LLC’s Flat Out and George and Lori Hall’s Ruler On Ice, two major players from the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (Grade I) run at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5, will be searching for Eclipse Award championship momentum when they face 11 rivals on the famed Louisville track in Friday’s 137th running of the Grade I, $500,000-added Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare.
The 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds and up is the centerpiece of the “Black Friday” racing card that in recent years has been the most heavily-attended racing program of the Fall Meet. The Clark Handicap is scheduled as the 11th event on a 12-race Thanksgiving Holiday weekend program that will get underway with the first race 12:40 p.m. (all times EST). Post time for the Clark is set for 5:42 p.m.
Flat Out, fifth behind WinStar Farm’s victorious Drosselmeyer as the slight favorite in the Classic, is the 5-2 favorite for the Clark in oddsmaker Mike Battaglia’s morning line odds for the 13-horse Clark field. Co-second choices at 4-1 are Classic winner Ruler On Ice, the upset winner of the Belmont Stakes (GI) and third in the Classic, and Morton Fink’s Wise Dan, a graded stakes winner on synthetic tracks and turf who is coming off an impressive win in Keeneland’s Fayette (GII).
Following two days of upset-laden racing in this year’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships, Eclipse Award championships in several divisions remain uncertain. The Clark contenders with the most to gain with regard to year-end honors are Flat Out and Ruler On Ice. The field includes four winners of Grade I stakes races and four horses with career earnings that exceed $1 million.
Flat Out, a 5-year-old son of Flatter with wins in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI) and Suburban Handicap (GII) at Belmont Park, could gain an edge in the race for champion older horse with a win over his home track in the Clark. Although he trains brilliantly at Churchill Downs for veteran conditioner Charles “Scooter” Dickey, he has yet to hit the board in three career starts over the traditional dirt surface at the famed Louisville track.
Veteran jockey Alex Solis, who has been aboard the Clark favorite in his last five starts, will be back in the saddle when Flat Out breaks from post six in the field of 13 horses. Flat Out was assigned highweight of 123 pounds and will concede from three-to-nine pounds to his rivals. His career record stands at 5-3-0 in 13 races with earnings of 1,259,713 heading into the Clark.
A victory over a strong field of older rivals in the Clark could push Ruler On Ice, who upset Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom and Preakness winner Shackleford in the Belmont Stakes, into the wide-open race for champion 3-year-old. The Belmont victory is the only stakes win of the year for trainer Kelly Breen’s gelded son of Roman Ruler, but Ruler On Ice finished third to older rivals in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and has recorded top-four finishes in the Haskell Invitational (GI), Travers (GI) and Pennsylvania Derby (GII) since his Belmont triumph.
Ruler On Ice drew the rail post for the Clark and will have Garrett Gomez in the saddle. He was assigned 118 pounds and brings a record of 3-3-3 in 11 races and earnings of $1,603,500 into Friday’s race.
Wise Dan will pursue his first victory in a Grade I race and owner Fink and trainer Charles Lopresti will seek a bit of redemption for last year’s Clark in which their Successful Dan was disqualified from his apparent victory. The versatile Wise Dan has career victories on dirt, grass and synthetic courses, but has yet to win a stakes race on traditional dirt. He has three races on the Churchill Downs dirt that include maiden and allowance wins, both over sloppy surfaces, and a solid sixth-place finisher in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Sprint in which he was beaten by just 2 ½ lengths by the victorious Big Drama. He won the Firecracker (GII) on the Churchill Downs grass in early July, and since then two stakes wins over synthetic surfaces: a victory over Tapeta in the Presque Isle Downs Mile and a four-length romp in his most recent start in the Fayette over Keeneland’s Polytrack surface.
John Velazquez will make his debut in the saddle aboard Wise Dan, who drew post 11 and will carry an impost of 120, the second-highest weight in the Clark.
Another 3-year-old hoping to finish 2011 in a big way is Zayat Stables LLC’s Prayer for Relief, who was entered in the Breeders’ Cup Classic but scratched by trainer Bob Baffert the following day. The son of Jump Start ran off a three-race winning streak during the summer that included the Iowa Derby (GIII), West Virginia Derby (GII) and the Super Derby (GII). Third to Redeemed in his most recent run in the Oklahoma Derby at Remington Park, Prayer for Relief will break from post 12 under Rafael Bejarano. The 5-1 fourth choice will carry 117 pounds in the Clark.
Another horse that competed in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and returns for a run in the Clark is Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey’s Headache, who was last of 12 in the Classic after wins in the Hawthorne Gold Cup (GII) and the Prairie Meadows Cornhusker (GIII). The two remaining Grade I winners in the field are Thomas McCarthy owned-and-trained General Quarters and Thomas and Jack Conway’s Stately Victor. Both won Keeneland’s Toyota Blue Grass (GI) over Polytrack at three – General Quarters won in 2009 and Stately Victor last year, and the former also won the 2010 renewal of the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (GI) over Churchill Downs’ Matt Winn Turf Course.
The remaining 2011 Clark Handicap contenders include Twin Creeks Racing Stables’ Mission Impazible, a narrow loser for trainer Todd Pletcher in this year’s Stephen Foster Handicap and Alysheba (GIII) at Churchill Downs and winner of Fair Grounds’ 2011 New Orleans Handicap (GII) and the 2010 Louisiana Derby (GII); Pleasant Prince, fourth to Afleet Again in the Breeders’ Cup Marathon (GII) and winner of the 2010 Oklahoma Derby and Ohio Derby (GIII); Lothenbach Stables’ Mister Marti Gras, accomplished on both turf and dirt and winner of the Ack Ack (GIII) at Churchill Downs last time out; Pattons Creek Farm’s Will’s Wildcat, winner of the Jimmy V at Churchill Downs on Nov. 4; Demarcation, winner of the 2009 Ack Ack who will compete in his third consecutive running of the Clark for trainer Paul McGee; and Pletcher’s Alma D’Oro, runner-up in the Ack Ack and winner of the Carpenter Memorial at Delaware Park in July.
The Clark Handicap was run for the first time in 1875 during the first racing meet at Churchill Downs, which was then known as the Louisville Jockey Club. Like the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) and Kentucky Oaks (GI), the Clark has been renewed annually without interruption since its first running. Two years ago the race was won by Adele Dilschneider and Claiborne Farm’s 3-year-old Blame, who returned to the track in 2010 to win the Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) and downed previously unbeaten Zenyatta her only defeat in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The 2011 renewal featured a rough-and-tumble stretch run in which Successful Dan edged Giant Oak at the finish, but stewards disqualified the former and elevated the latter to the victory.
Other recent winners of note include Saint Liam, who won the 2004 Clark en route to a 2005 campaign that included a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and an Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year. Silver Charm, winner of the 2007 Kentucky Derby, returned to Churchill Downs take the Clark the following year. And the 3-year-old filly Surfside wrapped up an Eclipse Award as the champion of her division with a victory over males in the 2000 Clark.
The field for the 137th Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (from the rail out with rider, weight and morning line odds) includes: Ruler On Ice, (Gomez, 118, 4-1), Alma D’Oro (Jesus Castanon, 116, 20-1) Demarcation (Corey Lanerie, 114, 15-1), Stately Victor (Victor Lebron, 115, 30-1), Mission Impazible, (Javier Castellano, 116, 12-1), Flat Out (Solis, 123, 5-2), Pleasant Prince, (Julio Garcia, 114, 20-1), Headache (Edgar Prado, 115, 12-1), Mister Marti Gras (Rajiv Maragh, 117, 12-1), Will’s Wildcat (Calvin Borel, 112, 30-1), Wise Dan (Velazquez, 120, 4-1); Prayer for Relief (Bejarano, 117, 5-1) and General Quarters (Jon Court, 116, 20-1).