G. Watts Humphrey’s Frivolous is more likely to defend her title in Thanksgiving Day’s $200,000 Falls City Handicap Presented by TwinSpires.com (Grade II) at Churchill Downs than to face males in Friday’s $500,000 Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI), the owner’s daughter and trainer Vicki Oliver said on Wednesday morning.
“Right now I’d say that we’re leaning toward the Falls City,” Oliver said. “The Clark field came up a bit tougher than I thought that it would. We also got a little more weight in there than I thought that we would. We’re only seven pounds on [high weight] Effinex. I’ll take a look at the past performances later on (before making a final decision).”
Should the 5-year-old daughter of Empire Maker’s swan song take place in the Falls City Handicap, she would be going for back-to-back victories in the race. Last year she scored a 19-1 upset victory in the Falls City over graded stakes winners Don’t Tell Sophia and Molly Morgan. She is the 122-pound high weight in the Falls City, seven pounds heavier than the 115 pounds she would carry against males in the Clark.
Aside from her Falls City triumph last year, Frivolous has scored two other stakes victories over the Churchill Downs main track when she spring a 32-1 upset in this year’s Fleur de Lis Handicap (GII) in June followed by an eight-length romp in the Locust Grove in September as the 7-5 favorite. Most recently, she was fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI) at Keeneland.
The Falls City Handicap field (with jockey and odds) from rail out: Tiz So Sweet (John Velazquez; 5-1), Call Pat (Joe Rocco, Jr.; 6-1), Salama (Chris Landeros; 30-1), Needmore Flattery (Luis Colton; 50-1), Frivolous (Jon Court; 3-1), Ahh Chocolate (Brian Hernandez, Jr.; 12-1), No Fault of Mine (Robby Albarado; 10-1), Gambler’s Rose (Shaun Bridgmohan; 30-1), Birdatthewire (Corey Lanerie; 4-1), Montana Native (Channing Hill; 20-1), Theogony (Julien Leparoux; 12-1), Chide (Miguel Mena; 5-1), Pretty Fancy (Sophie Doyle; 30-1).
EFFINEX SEEKS FIRST GRADE I WIN IN FRIDAY’S CLARK HANDICAP – Tri-Bone Stables’ Effinex will attempt to land the first Grade I victory of his career as the 122-pound high weight in Friday’s 142nd running of $500,000 Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) over 1 1/8 miles at Churchill Downs.
Last time out, the New York-bred son of Mineshaft was a runner-up behind Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) at Keeneland where he chased the winner at odds of 33-1.
“I definitely thought he was capable of it and I thought he was training well,” trainer Jimmy Jerkens said. “The whole thing with him is that you’ve got to be comfortable and Mike [Smith] had him in a nice comfortable spot with his hands down on him and that’s what he needs. He’s been in and out all year but even when he throws in a clunker he gets some of the pieces, and only the classy ones can do that. Even when it’s not his day he still always manages to get a piece of it.”
Jerkens acknowledges that Effinex will probably not get such favorable conditions as he did in the Breeders’ Cup.
“He gets a little riled up if he’s in between horses and gets too excited,” he said. “That can make him hard to handle, which might happen. It’s going to be a cavalry charge into the first turn probably. At least he’s outside so hopefully some will go to the front and he can sit in behind them. It all depends on what they do going out of the gate. Mike is going to have to make a decision.”
Friday’s National Weather Service forecast for Louisville calls for cloudy skies with a high near 62 and a 70-percent chance of showers after 8 a.m., which could affect the shape and outcome of the race.
“I’m not happy about that, even though he’s got some decent races in the mud,” Jerkens said. “If I was a horse I wouldn’t want that mud coming back in my face. With quality horses in front of you throwing mud in your face, you never want that. He’ll give us his all, but those aren’t ideal conditions for us.”
Regardless of how Effinex performs in the Clark, he will likely get a break following the race.
“We probably won’t start him back until the end of March of next year,” Jerkens said. “He’ll more than likely stay up in New York. We won’t take him down to Florida in the winter.”
Mike Smith, the pilot in Effinex’s last outing, will return to the saddle for Friday’s Clark Handicap.
TROUT CONFIDENT WITH OKLAHOMA-BRED SHOTGUN KOWBOY IN CLARK ‘CAP – Owner-trainer C.R. Trout is confident that his Oklahoma-bred gelding Shotgun Kowboy has a shot to win his fourth race in a row in Friday’s $500,000 Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI), where he will carry 113 pounds.
The son of Kodiak Kowboy will be facing off against six graded stakes winners and has yet to face such a competitive field. While he may appear to be a David amongst Goliaths in Friday’s race, Trout has faith that the horse can be competitive in what has turned out to be a deep Clark Handicap field.
“My colt just keeps improving with every start and he deserves a shot,” Trout said. “He’s settled in well – he’s just been skipping across the track in the morning and we are tickled to death with the way he’s been doing everything. I am confident. I know that this colt will lay it down out there. He’ll give us 110 percent; he always does.”
Trout’s last Clark Handicap contender, Maysville Slew, ran third in the 2000 edition of the race, finishing 5 ¼ lengths behind eventual winner Surfside.
“I always wanted to come back and run in the Clark again after Maysville Slew ran third awhile back,” he said. “I never had a horse that was capable of doing that until now and I think he’s very capable even though it appears to be a highly-contentious field. One of the other reasons we’re doing this is because of his mother [Shotgun Jane]. He’s a gelding, so if he can do this that would greatly improve her value as a broodmare. If he’s not as good as we think he is then so be it, but right now we’re absolutely thrilled with him.”
Trout has high ambitions for the son of Kodiak Kowboy, who has never finished off the board in eight career starts.
“We’re thinking about next year, we’re having visions of sugar plums,” he said. “We’d like to go to Santa Anita for the Breeders’ Cup if we can, so we’ll just see how everything plays out.”
Cliff Berry, the pilot in Shotgun Kowboy’s last two outings, will return to the saddle in Friday’s race.
The Clark Handicap field (with jockey and odds) from rail out: Keen Ice (Corey Lanerie; 3-1), Looks to Spare (Victor Lebron; 30-1), Mr. Z (Ricardo Santana, Jr.; 15-1), Frivolous (Jon Court; 15-1), Protonico (Julien Leparoux; 8-1), Hoppertunity (Martin Garcia; 7-2), Shotgun Kowboy (Berry; 20-1), Effinex (Mike Smith; 5-2), Race Day (John Velazquez; 7-2).
SAHAM GOES FOR SECOND CHURCHILL STAKES WIN IN COMMONWEALTH TURF – Sultan Bin Mishal’s Saham will be attempting to win his second graded stakes at Churchill Downs when he takes on a dozen 3-year-olds in Friday’s 12th running of the Commonwealth Turf (GIII) over 1 1/16 miles on Churchill Downs’ Matt Winn Turf Course.
Two starts ago, the son of Lemon Drop Kid won the Jefferson Cup (GIII) over the Churchill Downs’ Matt Winn Turf Course which gave him his first graded stakes victory. He followed that win with a runner-up effort in the Hawthorne Derby (GIII) last month finishing 2 ¼ lengths behind eventual winner Lucky Lindy. Trainer Brendan Walsh stated that his horse had a bit of traffic trouble during his most recent outing.
“When he finally got room he ran well,” Walsh said. “[Jockey] Joe [Rocco Jr.] seems to think that he would have been a bit closer to the winner had he gotten some racing room earlier on.”
In nine starts this year, Saham has never been beaten more than four lengths while scoring three victories. Walsh has high hopes that his horse will only improve with age and has his sights set on a 4-year-old campaign.
“We’ve programed this horse the whole time to make a good older horse,” he said. “We really think he’s going to be a good older horse next year. If he keeps on improving and keeps doing what he’s doing, I think he could be competitive in Grade I races next year. He’s very consistent and tries hard every time. We’ll probably give him a good rest after this race and focus on some of the bigger races at Keeneland and Churchill in the spring of next year. It’s all a matter of how he progresses.”
The Commonwealth Turf field (with jockey and odds) from the rail out: Nucifera (John Velazquez; 5-1), Czar (Mike Smith; 20-1), Almasty (Jon Court; 8-1), Quality Bird (Chris Landeros; 10-1), Wayward Kitten (Ricardo Santana, Jr.; 10-1), Bullards Alley (Marcelino Pedroza; 30-1), Bucchero (Shaun Bridgmohan; 30-1), One Go All Go (Julien Leparoux; 6-1), Nun The Less (Robby Albarado; 6-1), Magic of Believing (Corey Lanerie; 20-1), Granny’s Kitten (Martin Garcia; 6-1), Saham (Joe Rocco, Jr.; 4-1), Obsidian Splendor (Carlos Sullivan; 12-1).
DOWN THE STRETCH – Admission gates open at 10 a.m. and the first of 12 races on Thanksgiving Day will be 11 a.m. Training hours on Thursday will be 5-8:30 a.m. Thanksgiving Day at Churchill Downs has been a Louisville tradition since 1969 where more than 7,000 turkey dinners are served with all the trimmings, making it the largest number anywhere in the region.
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