Grade I-winning millionaires Dortmund, Hoppertunity and Keen Ice, along with Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) runner-up Effinex, top a star-studded roster of 23 horses that were nominated to the $500,000 Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI).
The 1 1/8-mile Clark, which will be contested at Churchill Downs for the 141st time on “Black Friday,” Nov. 27, annually lures some of the top 3-year-olds and up in the country and is the centerpiece of seven stakes events cumulatively worth $1.38 million that will be contested at Churchill Downs over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
Nine of the 23 Clark nominations are 3-year-olds and include Kaleem Shah’s Kentucky Derby third-place finisher Dortmund, Donegal Racing LLC’s Travers champ Keen Ice, and Calumet Farm’s Ohio Derby winner Mr. Z. All competed in this year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI).
Dortmund, trained by four-time Clark Handicap-winner Bob Baffert, made a successful return to the races in the Oct. 24 Big Bear Stakes at Santa Anita – his first start since finishing fourth in the Preakness (GI), the only off-the-board-finish of his nine-race career. Earlier in the year, he scored graded stakes victories at Santa Anita in the Robert B. Lewis (GII), San Felipe (GII) and Santa Anita Derby (GI).
Keen Ice, who made headlines by snapping Triple Crown-winner American Pharoah’s eight-race win streak in the Travers Stakes (GI) at Saratoga, looks to avenge a fourth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) at Keeneland on Oct. 31.
Should Mr. Z compete in the Clark Handicap, he would be making his 12th start this year for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, a two-time Clark winner with the filly Surfside (2000) and Will Take Charge (2013).
Tri-Bone Stables’ Suburban Handicap (GII) champ Effinex, the clear runner-up to American Pharoah in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at odds of 33-1, and Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman’s Hoppertunity, the defending Clark winner, headline the group of older horses nominated to the Clark. Hoppertunity, also a Baffert trainee, won the San Pasqual (GII) at Santa Anita in January and has finished second in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita (GI), Awesome Again (GI) and Fayette (GII).
If Hoppertunity goes for a second win in the Clark, he could become only the fourth horse to take back-to-back runnings of the race, joining Hodge (1915-16), Bold Favorite (1968-69), and Bob’s Dusty (1977-78).
Matthew Schera’s Oaklawn Handicap (GII) and Fayette (GII) winner Race Day heads six Todd Pletcher-trained horses nominated to the Clark. Pletcher, the nation’s leading trainer in money-won with $24.3 million, won the Clark on two occasions with Magna Graduate (2005) and A.P. Arrow (2007).
G. Watts Humphrey’s Frivolous is the lone mare nominated to the event and also is under consideration for the Falls City Handicap (GII) on Thanksgiving Day for the final race of her career. Eleven females have won the Clark: Colonial Girl (1904), Polly Prim (1908), King’s Daughter (1910), Helen’s Babe (1927), Esseff (1934), Sentiment Sake (1945), Wistful (1951), Las Olas (1959), Watch Fob (1970), Fairway Flyer (1972) and Surfside (2000).
Other Clark nominees are Are You Kidding Me, Bradester, Commissioner, Cougar Ridge, Eagle, El Kabeir, Imperative, Looks to Spare, Madefromlucky, Majestic Harbor, Mylute, Protonico, Shotgun Kowboy, Street Strategy, Tale of Verve and Tommy Macho. Weights for the race will be released Friday.
CASSE EYES CLOSING WEEKEND WITH 2-YEAR-OLDS AIROFORCE, CONQUEST BIG E – John C. Oxley’s Airoforce, second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (GI) at Keeneland, will get a chance to shine on dirt, following his half-mile breeze in :48.40 on Saturday morning at Churchill Downs in company with Conquest Stables LLC’s Conquest Big E.
The 2-year-old Colonel John colt, who has raced exclusively on grass in his three starts, will make his next start in the $200,000 Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) on Saturday, Nov. 28, according to assistant trainer Norman Casse. Conquest Big E, eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, is being pointed to a one-mile first-level allowance on the same day.
“They both worked on the bridle and were full of energy the entire time,” said Casse, assistant to his father Mark.
Airoforce’s three career starts include two victories in a maiden special weight at Kentucky Downs and the Bourbon (GIII) at Keeneland before a runner-up effort behind Hit It A Bomb in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. While he has still yet to make a start on the main track, Casse believes that he should handle it well.
“He’s always worked real well on the dirt and we’ve always thought that he was one of our better 2-year-olds this year,” Casse said. “He started out on the grass just because of the Kentucky Downs purse structure. Sometimes it works like that, but a lot of horses are good on any surface you put them on. He’s shown that he’s obviously very talented on the grass but we feel that as long as he continues to do well that this would be the perfect time to try him on the dirt being that this is at his home track and just to give us a good idea on where to go with him from here on out. Once you win two races in a row on the turf, you aren’t typically going to switch up and change directions, but in this case, being that there really are no turf races for 2-year-olds for the rest of the year, the Kentucky Jockey Club makes the most sense.”
RIDE ON CURLIN BREEZES; LIKELY TO RETURN TO THE RACES SOON – Dan Dougherty’s 2014 Preakness runner-up Ride On Curlin is likely to return to the races soon according to the owner and trainer William “Bronco Billy” Gowan. The son of Curlin breezed five furlongs in 1:01.80 on Saturday with Cory Orm aboard.
“He looked good and felt good. I was pleased,” Orm said.
Doughtery was at Churchill Downs to watch Ride On Curlin breeze and stated that one option for his Curlin colt’s return is the $60,000 Thanksgiving Handicap at the Fair Grounds on Nov. 26.
“We wanted to run him in the overnight stakes at Churchill [Bet On Sunshine Stakes] next Saturday, but the timing didn’t work out quite right,” he said. “It should certainly be a fun year next year. We’ve got some plans to run him in some big races. We’ve brought him back slow so we’ll probably run him once in the next 30 days and then head into next year. We’re going to ship down to Fair Grounds so we’ll hit that circuit and maybe Oaklawn for a race here and there. Just depending on what looks the best at the time. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s a lot more fun when he’s on the track racing than when he’s on a break. The breaks seem long but you have to do it sometime.”
DOWN THE STRETCH – Magdalena Racing LLC’s Dothraki Queen breezed a half-mile in :48.40 with jockey Corey Lanerie up for trainer Kenny McPeek, who is pointing the homebred daughter of Pure Prize to the $200,000 Golden Rod (GII) on Nov.28. … Wentworth Brochu’s Chocolate Ride worked a half-mile in :48.60. He has yet to run since a well-beaten eighth in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (GI) on May 2, but trainer Brad Cox stated that he is likely to return in December at Fair Grounds. … Gallant Stable’s Majestic Harbor worked a half-mile in :48.80 for trainer Paul McGee – his first work since a runner-up effort in the Marathon (GII) at Keeneland. … Heiligbrodt Stables LLC’s Cinco Charlie worked five furlongs in 1:03.00 for trainer Steve Asmussen.