One of the most historic races of all time is set for its 144th renewal this coming Friday at Churchill Downs. That race is the Grade 1, $500,000 Clark Handicap, which this year has drawn a field of eight. The 1 1/8-mile Clark heads a duo of stakes races on the 12-race “Black Friday” card, traditionally the most popular day of Churchill Downs’ Fall Meet. The main event is scheduled as the 11th race on the Friday program at 5:56 p.m. ET local time.
Headlining the race is defending champion Seeking the Soul, who finished second last time out in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. Seeking the Soul survived a jockey’s objection in last year’s running of the Clark after the rider of third-placed Hoppertunity, Florent Geroux, claimed Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez interfered late in the stretch run. Trainer Dallas Stewart seems to believe that his star horse is peaking at the right time, much like he did a year ago.
“He’s just getting better as the year goes on,” Stewart said. “Similar to his campaign last year when he won the Clark, he was peaking during this time. I would’ve liked to him to have had a shot to run in the (Breeders’ Cup) Classic but it is what it is. Hopefully he runs well in the Clark and he can get another shot at the ($9 million) Pegasus (World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park) in January.”
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas will look to win his third Clark with the well-traveled Bravazo, who is coming off of a third last time out in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. Bravazo also ran in all three Triple Crown events, including a close second to eventual Triple Crown winner Justify in the Grade 1 Preakness Stakes. Joel Rosario takes over the riding duties on Bravazo for this race.
The full field from the rail out for the 144th running of the Clark Handicap: Prime Attraction, Hence, Seeking the Soul, Hawaakom, Leofric, Bravazo, Storm Advisory, and Sightforsoreeyes.
#3 Seeking the Soul – The path to this year’s Clark seems very similar to last year, which means hat Seeking the Soul should be set up nicely to repeat. Last time out, the son of Perfect Soul was second in the Breeders Cup Dirt Mile, and prior to that, he won the Grade 3 Ack Ack Stakes two starts back. Both of those races were at Churchill Downs, which easily looks to be his preferred race track. This may not be the most flashy pick for the Clark, but all signs point to him being the most likely winner.
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#5 Leofric – Quietly, this horse has had a tremendous season for trainer Brad Cox. He has hit the board in all six races this season, winning four. Last time out, he took the Grade 2 Fayette Stakes at Keeneland, the biggest accomplishment of his career. Two races back, he was solid at Saratoga as well, finishing third in the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes. This race seems to fit him beautifully, with it not being the toughest field for a Grade 1 event. One final note to add: jockey Florent Geroux is a perfect three-for-three when riding this horse.
#6 Bravazo – This is the toughest horse in America. He showed up for every big 3-year-old race this season and nearly ruined Justify’s Triple Crown bid. Since then, he has hit the board in three more Grade 1s, including the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile in his last start. Cleary, the horse has a tremendous amount of class, which will make him dangerous once again here. He has proven to be the perfect underneath play in these types of races.
#1 Prime Attraction – The horse has nice early speed and drew the rail, which probably forces the hand of his connections to make his way to the front early in the race. The only other true speed in the race is drawn to his outside. If Prime Attraction can get out to a nice, easy lead by himself, then he can take this field a long ways, just like he did last time out in the Grade 2 Fayette Stakes at Keeneland, where he was second to Leofric. If the price is right, then he is worth a look.
#4 Hawaakom – At one time, you could count on this horse to hit the board in these types of races. Lately, though, he has fallen a bit off form, which makes him more questionable in this spot. His last two efforts were total no-shows, so there is no doubt that he must rebound in a big way to make an impact.
#2 Hence – This late-running Steve Asmussen charge has won some big races in the past; however, he has been very inconsistent throughout his career. He has picked up two wins in smaller 2018 stakes events at Zia Park and Remington Park, but against tougher company, he has struggled, which makes this race a bit questionable.
#7 Storm Advisory – Even though this gelding has made 50 starts, Friday will be his first against graded stakes company. We all know that owner Loooch Racing is not afraid to take shots, which is exactly what he will do here. The horse is coming off of nice back-to-back wins against allowance foes, but now he takes a shot against tougher company, which is where he has much to prove.
#8 Sightforsoreeyes – Loooch Racing has entered two horses in this race to take a shot at Grade 1 glory in a spot that has come up a little light. You can’t blame him for trying; however, this will be a tall task for this runner. The one positive is the fact the horse has solid early speed compared to the rest of these entries. He could get out to a nice early lead, which means there is a shot he can sneak away from this field.
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