(November 28, 2008) – Einstein, a 6-year-old son of 1985 Kentucky Derby winner Spend a Buck, collared 2-5 favorite Commentator at the head of the stretch and then held off a late surge from Delightful Kiss to win Friday’s 134th running of the $440,400 Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GII) at Churchill Downs by 1 ½ lengths.
Trained by Helen Pitts, Einstein ran the 1 1/8 miles on a fast main track in 1:49.79. The victory was the fifth of the day for Leparoux, who earlier in the card established a Fall Meet record for victories.
The Fall Meet concludes its 26-day run Saturday with the “Stars of Tomorrow II” card featuring all 2-year-olds. The 12-race program begins at 11:30 a.m. (ET) with general admission gates opening at 10 a.m.
Highlighting the card will be two Grade II stakes at 1 1/16 miles on the main track: the $150,000-added Golden Rod for fillies that goes as the ninth race at approximately 3:28 p.m. and the $150,000-added Kentucky Jockey Club that goes as the 11th race with an approximate 4:27 p.m. post time.
Also, reigning Horse of the Year and North America’s leading all-time money-earner Curlin will be paraded before the crowd between Races 5-6, and there’s a $23,365 carryover for the Z-5 (Super Hi-5), which requires bettors to pick the top five finishers in order, for the fifth race.
Commentator, ridden by John Velazquez and carrying high weight of 124 pounds, led the field of seven through early fractions of :24.57, :48.58 and 1:12.64 with Einstein, toting 119 pounds, as his closest pursuer. Leparoux moved Einstein to the outside of Commentator at the top of the stretch, dueling on even terms for a sixteenth of a mile before beginning to draw clear.
Delightful Kiss, ridden by Calvin Borel, rallied from far back to be a clear second, but was no threat to Einstein, who took home the winner’s check of $267,588 to raise his career earnings to $1,634,019.
Racing for court-appointed owner Matthew Garretson, Einstein posted his first career graded-stakes victory on dirt. Einstein, who had run second to 2007 Horse of the Year Curlin in this summer’s Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) here, owns three Grade I victories on the grass.
Einstein rewarded his backers with mutuels of $11.80, $5.20 and $2.60. Delightful Kiss returned $10.80 and $3.80 in finishing 2 1/4 lengths ahead of Commentator, who paid $2.10 to show.
Completing the field in order were Magna Graduate, Wayzata Bay, Dominican and Anak Nakal.
Two races before the Clark Handicap, 2008 Belmont Stakes winner Da’ Tara finished third in a 1 1/16-mile allowance optional claiming race. Da’ Tara was the first Belmont Stakes winner to run at Churchill Downs since 1999 winner Lemon Drop Kid ran in the 2000 Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Leparoux broke a 23-year-old Fall Meet record for victories when he recorded his 56th win. The victory in the third race aboard Just Like William eclipsed the mark of 55 set in the 30-day meet of 1985 by Pat Day. Leparoux’s total entering Saturday’s card is 59.
POST-RACE QUOTES – THE CLARK HANDICAP
JULIEN LEPAROUX (Jockey, EINSTEIN-BRZ, winner) – “I knew I had to stay close to Commentator and he broke sharp. I just kind of eased up a little bit on the outside. I just ran behind him all the way. When I asked him, he stuck his head in front of him and we were gone. It was done.”
Q: Did you work him in the morning?
“Yes. I breezed him last time and he breezed very good. We were expecting a good race from him, that’s for sure.”
Q: Was the game plan not to let Commentator get away?
“Yes, yes. The plan was to be right behind him and to not give him too much to do. Commentator is a very, very good horse and if you give him too much to do it would be tough.
Q: You were second aboard Einstein in the Stephen Foster. What was the difference today?
“That was a different race. It was a slow pace and he didn’t break very, very good that day. We came from the back and then finished. He still finished very good and just got beat by Curlin. Not bad.”
HELEN PITTS (Trainer, EINSTEIN-BRZ, winner) – “To be able to win a stake like that means the world to me but to get a graded stake on the dirt for him is super. It was kind of my main objective coming in here. He was second in a Grade I in the Stephen Foster. But to win a graded stake on the dirt for him, he deserves it more than anybody out there because I’ve never had a horse that loves his job and loves to train and loves to run as much as he does. When he turned for home, I knew he’d dig deep down inside to find all he could to get there. He’s a very special horse.”
Q: The game plan was to stay close, but isn’t there a fine line?
“There is. I mean, he worked him the other day and it was a big key. He rode him in the Stephen Foster but he had him close today and I think he realized that. In the Stephen Foster, I think he left him with a little too much to do. Today, they went :24 and change in the first quarter and he was perfect. It was a little bit out of Einstein’s style but at the same time they went slow enough where it wasn’t putting him totally out. I might have been second-guessing my own training at the three-eighths pole, but he pulled through for me. Just to have a horse like him means the world to me.”
Q: It was a nice win off the layoff . . .
“It was and I was hoping he hadn’t lost too much. That’s why everybody kept asking me, ‘Are you going to run? Are you going to run?’ I was going to let him tell me. When he worked like that last week and Julien said he did it all on his own, I figured he was ready.”
PETE ANDERSON, trainer of DELIGHTFUL KISS (runner-up)
“He (jockey Calvin Borel) gave him a lot to do. I like the guy’s riding and all that, but he just gave him a little too much to do. But it was a big effort. At one stage of the game he had to be close to 20 lengths off the lead, I would think. Unless my eyes are bad, I would say he was close to that. When the horse (Timber Reserve) scratched, it changed the complexion of the race.”
Q: Will Delightful Kiss return racing next year?
“I’m staying with this horse until he dies. I’ll have him until he dies. It’s better than the fountain of youth, having this horse. It’s one of the great thrills in my life, and I’ve had a whole lot of them. But this is one of the great thrills of my life – I love this horse.”
CALVIN BOREL, jockey on DELIGHTFUL KISS (runner-up)
“I wish the other horse (Timber Reserve) hadn’t scratched – I think he would have added a little more pace. But he ran good – he ran his race. He ran a huge race – no complaints. This horse is doing good.”
NICK ZITO, trainer of COMMENTATOR (third as the 2-5 favorite)
“He wasn’t himself. Like everything else, it could just be the effect of a long year for him, the way he is. He puts everything into everything he does. You know, Helen (Pitts) did a good job with Einstein – coming off a three-month layoff. He’s a nice horse that finished second to Curlin. But John (Velazquez) said Commentator was just skipping. He wasn’t getting a good hold (of the track). He just wasn’t himself.”
Q: Were you concerned throughout?
“When he left there I was happy, but down the backside he just couldn’t accelerate and get away, and I knew something was wrong. John said he just wasn’t himself.”
JOHN VELAZQUEZ, jockey on COMMENTATOR (third)
“He struggled with the track. He was good the first part of the race, but he got to the half-mile pole and I tried to encourage him, but it seemed like he was skipping – he was slipping and sliding a little bit. That’s the first time he ever felt that he was not getting hold of the track, and he’s been everywhere. But today he just struggled with it. I got after him, but he just went through the motions. He didn’t do like he can.”
SHAUN BRIDGMOHAN, jockey on MAGNA GRADUATE (fourth)
“He ran OK. He went around and had a good trip around there. He was just fourth today.”