Mort Fink’s homebred Wise Dan achieved Grade I glory when he kicked clear of Mission Impazible in the final furlong to easily win the 137th running of the $572,500 Clark Handicap presented by Norton Healthcare by 3 ¾ lengths on Friday at Churchill Downs.
Wise Dan gave Fink and trainer Charlie Lopresti a bit of redemption for last year’s Clark in which their Successful Dan was disqualified from an apparent victory. Successful Dan finished a head in front of Giant Oak a year ago, but because of interference with Redding Colliery in the upper stretch, was disqualified and placed third.
There was no doubt about Wise Dan’s sublime performance. Ridden by two-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey John Velazquez, Wise Dan tracked pacesetter Will’s Wildcat and Mission Impazible from clear sailing on the outside in third under a strong hold as the former led the field of 13 three-year-olds and up through fractions of 23.80, :48.24 and 1:12.80.
Midway around the final turn, Will’s Wildcat began to falter and Mission Impazible took the lead. Velazquez slipped Wise Dan some rein and the 4-year-old gelding quickly drew even from the outside. He kicked clear of that rival at the eighth pole and stood head and shoulders above the field in deep stretch while crossing the finish line in 1:48.95 for 1 1/8 miles over a fast track.
The versatile Wise Dan, a graded stakes winner on synthetic tracks and turf who entered the Clark off an impressive four-length romp in Keeneland’s Fayette (GII), is a gelded Kentucky-bred son of Wiseman’s Ferry out of the Wolf Power-SAf mare Lisa Danielle. The huge pot of $326,554 increased his earnings to $919,601. Overall, it was Wise Dan’s eighth victory from 14 starts (14-8-0-0).
Freddie Wirth, who guided Sentiment Sake to victory in the 1945 Clark, and Donna Allen, a vice president with Norton Healthcare, presented the Clark Handicap trophy to the winning connections.
Sent postward as 9-2 third choice, Wise Dan, who carried 120 pounds, returned $11, $6 and $4.20. Mission Impazible, who carried 116 pounds under Javier Castellano at odds of 7-1, paid $7 and $5.40. Flat Out, the 123-pound high weight and 2-1 favorite under Alex Solis, raced in mid-pack early and could only manage third, 2 ¾ lengths behind the runner-up, and paid $3.20 to show.
Mister Marti Gras, 9-2 second choice Ruler On Ice, Headache, Alma d’Oro, Will’s Wildcat, Prayer for Relief, Stately Victor, Demarcation, Pleasant Prince and General Quarters completed the order of finish.
The Clark was Wise Dan’s first stakes triumph on dirt. Before the Clark, he had three races on the Churchill Downs dirt that include maiden and allowance wins, both over sloppy surfaces, and a solid sixth-place finish in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Sprint in which he was beaten just 2 ½ lengths by the champion Big Drama. He won the Firecracker (GII) on the Churchill Downs grass in early July, and added two stakes wins over synthetic surfaces: a victory in the Presque Isle Downs Mile in September and the Oct. 29 Fayette.
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.
Racing at Churchill Downs continues Saturday with a 12-race “Stars of Tomorrow II” program exclusively for 2-year-olds with first post time of 12:40 p.m. (all times Eastern). Highlighting the program are two Grade II stakes: the 68th running of the $150,000-added Golden Rod for fillies, which goes as the ninth race (4:42 p.m. post time), and the 85th running of the $150,000-added Kentucky Jockey Club, which goes as the 11th race (5:42 p.m. post time).
In just six years of existence, Stars of Tomorrow has been the launching pad for numerous graded stakes winners including 24 Grade I winners. Thirteen horses have exited the events and become millionaires: Court Vision ($3,746,658), Rachel Alexandra ($3,506,730), Lawyer Ron ($2,790,008), Pure Clan ($1,987,498), Shackleford ($1,985,803), Super Saver ($1,889,766), Macho Again ($1,825,767), Giant Oak ($1,484,829), First Dude ($1,442,140), Swift Temper ($1,296,688), General Quarters ($1,220,930), Fly Down ($1,187,935) and Any Given Saturday ($1,083,533).
Closing day of the 21-day Fall Meet is Sunday and Churchill Downs will offer free general admission to all patrons.
CLARK HANDICAP QUOTES
Charlie Lopresti, trainer of Wise Dan (winner): “It was perfect and I was pretty confident going into the race, other than about whether he could go the 1 1/8 miles on the dirt. But I thought he was going to run one of his best races today. I would have been disappointed if he didn’t do it. It looked like the Fayette. It was the same kind of race. He’s a pretty good horse. Just stay out of his way and try to take care of him.”
Q. What allows him to be so consistent on multiple surfaces? “I just think he loves to run. We galloped him two miles the other day and the exercise rider came back and said he could have gone around five more times. He just doesn’t get tired. He just loves to run.”
Q. What are the plans for next year? “We’re going to give him the winter off, just like Turallure. We’ll give him some time to be a horse and then bring him back in the spring.”
Q. What went into the decision to ride John Velazquez for the first time? “Julien (Leparoux) rides all of our horses and he couldn’t ride him a few times and that’s why Jon Court got the mount on him (on thee occasions earlier this year). Jon Court has done a great job on him and it’s nothing he did wrong. Julien is our number one rider and rode him in the Fayette and when he won the Fayette he had already committed to ride in California today (Never Retreat in the Grade I Matriarch). I talked to the owner (Mort Fink) and he asked if we could get John Velazquez to ride him and I said I didn’t know if he would come. I called Angel Cordero (Velazquez’s agent) and he called me back in five minutes and said they were coming. Mr. Fink said any time that you can get John Velazquez on a horse you should try it.”
Q. How does it feel to win this race after being taken down with Successful Dan in last year’s Clark? “I was really disappointed last year. I just didn’t understand why they took his number down, but they saw it that way and I have to respect their opinion. I jokingly said surely we don’t get taken down this year. It’s a dream come true to be back here with this many good horses.”
John Velazquez, jockey on Wise Dan (winner): “I like these pickup mounts. It worked out perfect. I was on the outside and the trainer (Charlie Lopresti) told me he was going to be pulling pretty strong, but to keep him third or fourth. Right from the start I got him back and he settled pretty good. He was strong in hand and when I got to the quarter-pole he took off and moved so smoothly. He was very confident in himself.”
Todd Pletcher (via phone from New York), trainer of Mission Impazible (runner-up): “He’s run two big races, but unfortunately he’s been a bridesmaid twice there this year in the two Grade Is (the Stephen Foster Handicap and Clark Handicap). But it was another big effort from him and we’re proud of him.”
Q: Everything looked possible at the head of the stretch …“I thought at the three-eighths pole you could see Wise Dan was really loaded up, and then I thought we might have snuck away from him for just a half a second, but he (Wise Dan) was just too good on the day and hats off to him. He ran a big race and I’m very proud of our second.”
Q: Assuming he’ll race next year, so what will be the early plan for his 5-year-old campaign? “We might take a look at the (Grade I) Donn (Handicap at Gulfstream Park), and of course he loves the Fair Grounds, so those races there would certainly be possibilities. We feel like he’s a Grade I horse and we’ve been very unlucky not to win one, so that’s our main objective.”
Javier Castellano, rider on Mission Impazible (runner-up): “He loves Churchill. We had a beautiful spot today; we were where I wanted to be in the race. He settled down beautifully and I loved the way he did it. I think we were just second-best today. I’m very satisfied and very happy with the way he did it today. I’m not disappointed at all. I know we got beat and he finished second, but you’ve got to give a lot of credit to the winner. He was very impressive.”
“Scooter” Dickey, trainer of Flat Out (third as the favorite): Q: Jockey Alex Solis said he believed Flat Out just does not care for this racetrack. What are you thinking? “I think that’s what we’ve got to kind of face. I saw him and he was laying perfect over there and he started his move, and I said ‘Well, if he likes this track he’s going to run good today. But he just looked like he got to fightin’ it, and Alex said when asked him to run he just can’t handle it. He said he had a hold of him and he had a lot of horse, and he was very happy with where he was laying. But when he asked him, it wasn’t there.”
Q: That’s amazing because he works so well over this track … “Yeah, but you know he’s only working five-eighths and all that. He laid right there with ‘em and he looked good, but that was it. He came back and seemed fine. I looked at his legs and they’re fine and everything, but it’s just one of those things, I guess.”
Q: You have talked about trying him on the grass next year. Is that still a thought? “Well, I’m going to Florida and I’m going to work him on it down there and see how he likes that. But we’ve enjoyed him. We’ve had a good time this year.”
Alex Solis, rider on Flat Out (third as the favorite): “He broke really good and I got a good position. He went really nice when he was in hand, but as soon as asked him to drop his head he’d just start swimming around. He struggled over the track too much.”
Q: You think he just doesn’t care for the track at Churchill Downs? “Definitely, because when you see the replay you can see him stumbling and losing his footing and he’s a horse that needs to get in a rhythm.”
Kelly Breen, trainer of Ruler On Ice (fifth): “Just looking back, they say he may not be at his best when he has to take all the dirt in his face and the one-post kind of put us there. Garrett (jockey Garrett Gomez) didn’t mention anything negative about it, but knowing the horse it didn’t help our cause.”