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Churchill Downs Preview & FREE Picks | Clark Stakes 2023: First Mission Faces Major Test
First Mission (Carson Blevins/Eclipse Sportswire/CSM)

Churchill Downs Preview & FREE Picks | Clark Stakes 2023: First Mission Faces Major Test

Aaron previews the 2023 Clark Stakes (G2) from Churchill Downs, then gives his top picks & long shots.

Can the well-regarded 3-year-old First Mission pass his major test against older horses? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!

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The press release:

Godolphin’s First Mission, a well-regarded and lightly-raced 3-year-old colt, will take on a field of 10 older horses that entered next Friday’s 149th running of the Grade 2, $600,000 Clark presented by Norton Healthcare at Churchill Downs.

The Clark field will head to post in Race 11 of 12 at 5:56 p.m. (all times Eastern). The annual “Black Friday” program from Churchill Downs also will feature the $300,000 Mrs. Revere (G2) in Race 10. First post is 1 p.m.

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Trained by Brad Cox, First Mission sports a solid record of three wins from just four starts including a half-length score earlier this year in the Lexington Stakes (G3) at Keeneland. The late-developing First Mission entered this year’s Preakness (G1) as one of the favorites but was scratched prior to the race with an ankle injury.

First Mission returned six months later in a second-level allowance contest at Keeneland where he overcame a troubled trip to defeat Commandperformance by a neck. Jockey Luis Saez will be on board First Mission in the Clark and break from post No. 2.

Another accomplished 3-year-old that entered the Clark is Alexandres LLC’s Il Miracolo. Trained by Antonio Sano, Il Miracolo has been well-traveled throughout the second half of the season. The Clark will mark the sixth different track Il Miracolo has competed at in the past six months.

The Florida-based son of Gun Runner scored the highlight of his career three starts ago when he cruised to a three-length victory in the Smarty Jones (G2) at Parx. Four weeks ago, Il Miracolo dueled with O’Connor in the Fayette (G2) at Keeneland but finished a head behind in second. Leading rider Tyler Gaffalione will have the call from post 3.

Harrell Ventures and CHC INC’s Gasoline will attempt his first try at graded stakes company. The Todd Pletcher trainee rose through his allowance conditions when he easily won a third-level allowance event by 5 ¼ lengths at the beginning of the Fall Meet. The 4-year-old son of Curlin will be ridden by Flavien Prat from post 4.

If Gasoline won the Clark, Pletcher would tie trainers Smiley Adams, Bob Baffert and Ben Jones for the most wins in the race with three. Pletcher previously won the Clark with Magna Graduate (2005) and A.P. Arrow (2007).

Other notable entrants in the Clark include Lukas Classic (G2) runner-up and third-place finishers Trademark and Blue Devil; R.A. Cowboy Jones winner Stage Raider, the half-brother to 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify; Grade 3 winner Giant Game; and New York-bred stakes winner Straight Arrow.

The field for the Clark from the rail out (with jockey and trainer):

  1. Straight Arrow (Florent Geroux, Mike Dini)
  2. First Mission (Saez, Cox)
  3. Il Miracolo (Gaffalione, Sano)
  4. Gasoline (Prat, Pletcher)
  5. Trademark (Fernando De La Cruz, Vicki Oliver)
  6. Film Star (Jose Lezcano, Linda Rice)
  7. Giant Game (Martin Garcia, Dale Romans)
  8. Happy American (Declan Cannon, Neil Pessin)
  9. Stage Raider (Brian Hernandez Jr., Cherie DeVaux)
  10. Blue Devil (Javier Castellano, Jeff Hiles)