The Grade 1 Clark Handicap headlines a stakes-filled card on the day after Thanksgiving that is traditionally the most popular racing day of the Churchill Downs’ Fall Meet. This year, the Clark is scheduled as the 11th race on a Friday program that also features the 27th running of the Grade 2, $200,000 Mrs. Revere and the $80,000 Dream Supreme Overnight Stakes.
The Clark Handicap was run for the first time in 1875 as part of the inaugural racing meet at Churchill Downs, which was then known as the Louisville Jockey Club. The Clark, the Kentucky Derby, and the Kentucky Oaks have been run each year without interruption since their debuts. Like most runnings, the shippers take center stage in the race, and this year will be no different.
The 2014 Clark winner, Hoppertunity, is back to compete in the race for the fourth time. The 6-year-old son of Any Given Saturday finished fourth to Gun Runner last year and was the runner-up to Effinex in 2015. Trainer Bob Baffert’s veteran enters the Clark off of a runner-up finish in the $70,000 Comma To The Top at Santa Anita on October 28, which was his first race since the Group 1 Dubai World Cup in late March.
“I’ll never forget when he won the 2014 Clark,” Baffert said. “He’s always been right there all the time. He’s made $4 million by being right there and has always been a barn favorite. It sounds like it will be a tough Clark, so it won’t be a walk in the park by any means.”
New York-based Diversify is the other big-name shipper set to invade Churchill Downs. Entering off of a wire-to-wire, 1-length victory in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park, his connections debated a start in the Breeders’ Cup Classic before deciding to point for this race.
The field for the Clark Handicap includes, from the rail out: Hoppertunity, Seeking the Soul, Good Samaritan, Destin, Goats Town, Mo Tom, The Player, Honorable Duty, and Diversify.
#9 Diversify – He earned the biggest win of his career last time out in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, which came on the heels of an 11 1/2-length blowout win in the $100,000 Evan Shipman at Saratoga. Once again, he looks to be the controlling speed in the race, and on paper, he should get out to an easy lead. If that happens, he will be hard to catch, as he beat a tougher field last time out. He has won seven of ten races overall in his career, finishing off the board only once.
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#1 Hoppertunity – The old war horse is back once more! After coming to Churchill Downs and winning this race in 2014, he returned to finish second and fourth in the race in 2015 and 2016, respectively. This year, he has only three races under his belt, including a win in the Grade 2 San Antonio at Santa Anita in February. After a poor effort in Dubai, he was given some time off and returned to finish second in the Comma To The Top. He should be ready to put forth a big effort, but does he have enough left to actually win the race?
#7 The Player – This horse has always had plenty of hype, but his win in the Grade 2 Fayette at Keeneland last time out was his first career stakes win. He has slowly gotten into top form this year, with two wins and a second in his last three starts. He’ll need to run huge to win this type of race, but he is coming along at the right time. His outside draw will allow him to stalk the pace and pounce when the time is right.
#3 Good Samaritan – He’ll drop back like normal and try to make one run at the end. That’s his game, and on both turf and dirt, he pretty much needs a meltdown up front in order to win. In the Grade 2 Jim Dandy, he won easily, basically because all of the horses in front of him totally stopped. He’ll pass tired horses in this race, but he’s better as an underneath horse in the wagering.
#4 Destin – He picked up a win last time out at Del Mar on the Breeders’ Cup undercard in the Grade 2 Marathon. Can he do the same when not running long distances? It’s worth a try, but he probably needs the added distance to be most effective against top-notch competition. He’s a grind-it-out type, which will make him a logical candidate to hit the board.
#2 Seeking the Soul – If he can produce the type of effort that he showed last time out in an allowance race at Keeneland, then he could win this race. However, that 9-length romp is not something that you normally see from him. Hitting the board seems like a more likely result, and he might be the type of price that makes your trifecta pay very well.
#8 Honorable Duty – He probably shouldn’t be labeled as a party crasher because he won’t be a longshot price, but I struggled to know what exactly to do with him. He had some solid performances at Churchill Downs this year, finishing second in both the Grade 2 Alysheba and the Grade 1 Stephen Foster, while winning the Grade 3 Lukas Classic two races back. Last time out was a massive disappointment, though, as he never got going and finished sixth in the Fayette at Keeneland. Perhaps he just didn’t like the slop, or perhaps he may be tailing off a bit. It’s tough to get a read on him here.
#6 Mo Tom – At one time, it looked like this horse was headed for big things, but he never quite developed enough to take his game to the next level. His last race was decent against allowance company at Churchill Downs, but he still finished second in that event.
#5 Goats Town – He’s in over his head here without a doubt, but he does come into the race off of a victory against allowance company over this track. Two of his three lifetime wins have come at this track, but don’t expect him to pick up his third win over the track this time.