The CLARK HANDICAP from Churchill Downs has been upgraded to Grade 1 status on the strength of its recent winners. Horses like Saint Liam, Einstein, Blame and Wise Dan have strengthened the reputation of the 9 furlongs race. This year’s race will go forward at 5:35 ET on Friday.
POOL PLAY enters this race after failing to close in the Breeders’ Cup Classic where he finished eighth. Toss that race, as nothing could come from off the pace on that day. Backers have to love that his only race on this track was a win in the 2011 edition of the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap. Trainer Mark Casse looks to have him sharp for jockey Corey Lanerie.
2009 Queen’s Plate winner EYE OF THE LEOPARD will try to score his first dirt victory for trainer D Wayne Lukas. Given his pedigree, by A.P. Indy out of a Smart Strike dam, there is no reason he can’t move up on the surface switch. Jockey Jon Court knows this track as good as anyone and should provide a good ride.
SHACKLEFORD‘S lone start at Churchill Downs this year was a win over 2011 Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Amazombie in the Churchill Downs Stakes. The Metropolitan Mile winner hasn’t competed in a route race since finishing poorly in the Donn Handicap to start his 2012 campaign. There is no reason he can’t make amends for that effort. The 2011 Preakness winner will look to go out with a bang as he is reunited with jockey Jesus Castanon. Dale Romans is the trainer.
BOURBON COURAGE finally lived up to his potential with a five length Super Derby win two races back. He followed it up with a second place finish in the Indiana Derby. The distance suits him well and this is the time of the year that some of the late blooming sophomores catch up to their older peers. Kellyn Gorder trains for jockey Leandro Goncalves.
CEASE looks like a horse that is improving. He was third in the Woodward at Saratoga and just missed in the Hawthorne Gold Cup where he finished second. The Al Stall trained gelding loves the distance and should get plenty of pace to chase. Hot riding Miguel Mena will be in the irons.
Calvin Borel has owned Churchill Downs in the past, but has cooled down recently. He hopes to be as good once as he ever was aboard TAKE CHARGE INDY. The Florida Derby champion returned from a break on October 27 to be third in the Fayette Stakes at Keeneland after setting the pace. Look for him to keep Shackleford company near the front. Patrick Byrne is the trainer.
While others went to the Breeders’ Cup, FAST FALCON has been lying in wait for this event. The Nick Zito pupil likes to come with a late run. He used his closing kick to finish third in the Travers and second in the Dwyer. His last trip to the track saw him flatten in the stretch to finish fifth in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. This distance is right up his alley. Shaun Bridgmahon is the rider.
STEALCASE has tried his hand against top horses on several occasions this year. He finally got his first graded stakes win when he triumphed in the Ontario Derby three races ago at Woodbine. He was last seen finishing third in the Ack Ack Handicap over this track. It will take a move forward, but it looks like he has the sort of talent it takes to compete on this stage. Brian Hernandez, fresh off a Breeders’ Cup Classic win, rides for Mark Casse.
MISSION IMPAZIBLE has won only three races in his career, but has earned over $1.2 million thanks to a slew of graded stakes placing’s to go along with his Louisiana Derby and New Orleans Handicap wins. He has performed well at Churchill Downs, despite not winning in six tries. If he comes with the effort that saw him finish second by a nose in this year’s Donn Handicap then he’s got a chance to win. Todd Pletcher trains and JJ Castellano stays aboard. This horse was second in last year’s Clark Handicap.
Bill Mott likes to quietly bring horses along before allowing them to thunder to a big time win and that is exactly what he has done with LUNAR VICTORY. The five-year-old son of Speightstown was brought home at the end of last year after beginning his career in Great Britain. Since then, he has won six of eight starts, including the New York bred Empire Classic Stakes when last seen. He easily defeated Saratoga Snacks in that race, and that horse that looks to have a lot of potential. Jockey Junior Alvarado could be sitting on any kind of horse. We have no idea how deep the well is.
Nothing in this race excites me from a wagering viewpoint. I’m going to sit this one out. The favorites don’t offer enough value and I see too many flaws in some of the middle and longer priced horses.
As a fan, I’d like to see jockey Jesus Castanon ride Shackleford off into the sunset. The 2011 Preakness was a break through win for both jockey and trainer. Let’s hope they can go out on top.
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