Tracy Farmer's Commentator, Elisabeth Alexander's Magna Graduate and Midnight Cry Stable's Einstein (BRZ), who have combined to earn $5,769,604 in their stellar careers, headline a field of eight for Friday's 134th running of the $400,000-added Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GII) at Churchill Downs.
The Clark Handicap, named for the family of Churchill Downs founder Meriwether Lewis Clark, was first run at the track's inaugural meet in 1875 and, like the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) and the Kentucky Oaks (GI), has been run annually without interruption since. The 1 1/8-mile race over the main track will be the 11th race on the 12-race card with an approximate post time of 4:29 p.m. (all times Eastern). Post time for the first race is 11:30 a.m. and admission gates open at 10 a.m.
The 7-year-old Commentator has won 13 of 20 careers starts for earnings of $1,841,936 while racing for five years under the care of trainer Nick Zito. Ridden by John Velazquez in all five of his starts this year, Commentator has won four times, highlighted by a second victory in the Grade I Whitney at Saratoga, and enters the Clark off a 14-length victory in the Massachusetts Handicap on Sept. 20 at Suffolk Downs.
The New York-bred gelding by Distorted Humor is enjoying the finest year of his career with four victories in five races and earnings of $1,025,700. His only loss came in a runner-up finish to Divine Park in the Metropolitan Handicap (GI) at Belmont Park. Commentator will carry top weight of 124 pounds and break from post position four under Velazquez. He easily won his only previous start at Churchill Downs in 2004.
Now trained by Steve Asmussen, the 6-year-old Magna Graduate has won 10 of 34 career starts with six seconds and six thirds for earnings of $2,561,237. Two of those victories have come at Churchill Downs, one in the 2005 Clark Handicap for former trainer Todd Pletcher and the other in this year's Grade III Ack Ack Handicap on Oct. 26. Shaun Bridgmohan, who rode Magna Graduate in the Ack Ack, will be aboard Friday. Magna Graduate will break from post position two and carry 120 pounds.
The 6-year-old Einstein, trained by Helen Pitts, is a two-time Grade I winner on the grass this year and has built a career resume of eight wins in 21 starts for earnings of $1,366,431. Idle since finishing a troubled fifth in the Grade I Arlington Million on Aug. 9, Einstein last started on the dirt in the Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) at Churchill Downs on June 14 when he ran second to 2007 Horse of the Year Curlin.
Julien Leparoux, who rode Einstein in the Stephen Foster, will ride Friday and break from post position three. Einstein will carry 119 pounds.
Bidding for a return to form in the Clark will be Silverton Hill LLC's Dominican, winner of the 2007 Toyota Blue Grass (GI) at Keeneland. The Darrin Miller-trained son of El Corredor defeated Street Sense by a nose over the Polytrack course that day, but finished 11th to that rival on the dirt in the Kentucky Derby. Dominican snapped a six-race losing streak in an allowance win over the synthetic Tapeta surface in July at Pennsylvania's Presque Isle Downs, and has since finished third to Delightful Kiss in the Turfway Fall Championship (GIII) and was runner-up to longshot Ball Four in the Fayette (GIII) at Keeneland. Robby Albarado will ride.
Three other graded-stakes winners on dirt in 2008 are in the Clark field: Four Roses Thoroughbreds' Anak Nakal, winner of the Grade II Pennsylvania Derby on Sept. 1 at Philadelphia Park, World Thoroughbreds Racing's Wayzata Bay, winner of the Grade II Cornhusker Handicap at Prairie Meadows on June 28, and Hobeau Farm's Delightful Kiss, winner of the Turfway Park Fall Championship on Sept. 6 and the All American Stakes at Golden Gate on Sept. 27. Delightful Kiss most recently finished fifth to Albertus Maximus in the $500,000 Breeders' Cup Marathon over the Pro-Ride course at Santa Anita.
The field for the Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare, from the rail out, is as follows: Delightful Kiss (Calvin Borel, 116 pounds), Magna Graduate (John Velazquez, 120), Einstein (Julian Leparoux, 119), Commentator (John Velazquez, 124), Anak Nakal (Jesus Castanon, 118), Timber Reserve (Kent Desormeaux, 116), Wayzata Bay (Israel Ocampo, 117) and Dominican (Robby Albarado, 115).
Appearing on the Clark Handicap undercard on Friday will be Robert LaPenta's Da' Tara, the upset winner of the Belmont Stakes (GI) who derailed Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown's bid for a Triple Crown. The Nick Zito-trained son of Tiznow has lost three consecutive races since then, with the most recent setback coming in a sixth-place finish to Tale of Ekati in the Jerome Handicap (GII) at Belmont Park.
Da' Tara will face seven rivals in the 1 1/16-mile allowance optional claiming race for 3-year-olds and up. He will be the first Belmont Stakes winner to run at Churchill Downs since 1999 winner Lemon Drop Kid finished fifth to Tiznow in the 2000 Breeders' Cup Classic (GI). Victory Gallop, the 1999 Belmont Stakes winner, won the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs the following year.