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Defending winner Effinex will bid to become a rare two-time winner of Churchill Downs Racetrack’s $500,000 Grade I Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare when he faces a strong group of nine rivals that includes a trio of Grade I winners in Hoppertunity, Noble Bird and Shaman Ghost and top 3-year-old Gun Runner in the 142nd running of the track’s traditional feature on Black Friday, Nov. 25.
The Clark Handicap, a 1 1/8-mile test for 3-year-olds and up named for the family of Churchill Downs founder Meriwether Lewis Clark, was introduced in the track’s inaugural racing meet in 1875. Like the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) and the Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI), it has been run annually and without interruption since its debut.
Seven of the 10 Clark Handicap entrants have surpassed the $1 million mark in career earnings. The members of the field have combined for 62 career victories and total earnings of $16,378,160.
#9 Hoppertunity – He won this race two years ago and finished second a year ago to Effinex by a half length. This is one of the classiest horses in all of racing as he’s knocked heads with the best of the best for three years and is ultra consistent. He can be considered a measuring stick of sorts as he runs the same exact race almost every single time. He’ll never be able to hang with the elite horses like California Chrome, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a very talented race horse. Talent wise he fits in with this group perfectly, and could simply outclass this field today. One of my favorite horses in training as he is as hard knocking as they come.
#1 Gun Runner – Everybody’s favorite tough luck loser is back for another swing in a Grade 1 race! No horse all year has ran so well and not picked up a major wins to show for it. Last time out in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile he got the break he needed when Dortmund did not run well, but unfortunately once again the best he could do was second as Tamarkuz ran a huge race and flew by him in the stretch. Sooner or later this classy horse is going to get his big time win, and that day could definitely be today as he’s ran very well at Churchill Downs in his four starts at the track.
#2 Effinex – Last year’s defending champion is back looking for back to back Clark Handicap victories. This year has been a roller coaster for Effinex. Last year he was coming into this race off of a second place effort in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but this year he comes into the race off a seventh place effort in the Classic where he was defeated by twenty four lengths. However, his three races previous to the Classic are good enough to compete today, but we’ll have to see what Effinex shows up this time. He has become wildly inconsistent…at his best he’s tough. At his worst…not so much.
#4 Shaman Ghost – A Grade 2 winner at Belmont Park and a Grade 1 winner at Saratoga is all you need to know about this horse that has quietly had a big year. The target for Shaman Ghost was the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but a few minor set backs has rerouted him to plan B here in the Clark Handicap. Perhaps the layoff could cause some concern here, and was the big factor in separating him from the top choice I have picked in this spot. Still expecting a solid effort as he’s given us no reason not to this year.
#6 Noble Bird – It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the key ingredient to this horses success: he needs the lead! In his eight races this year he has gotten to the lead in four of them and picked up three wins and one second. The four races he hasn’t gotten the lead have not gone well to say the least. Against this field it looks to me to be a 50/50 shot that he could get the right trip with the big question mark being what Effinex ends up doing. Thinking because it’s a 50/50 call you have to be safe and throw him on you pick 4 tickets.
#10 Prayer for Relief – It’s been so long since this horse has won a race…December of 2013 to be exact. However, between now and then you’ll see he’s been able to hit the board in several tough spots throughout the last few years. He probably can’t win this race, but he can get up to complete the tri or superfecta and help you payouts. He’s the definition of a hard knocker, and most every time he runs he does at least try to make a late closing move.
#3 Are You Kidding Me – The dirt is the big question mark for him in this spot. You could make an argument that he is coming into this race in better form than almost anyone, but those recent strong races have come over the synthetic and turf at Woodbine. His lifetime efforts leave a lot to be desired, but it’s worth noting when he tried the dirt before he was not in this good of form. He’s mildly interesting if the price is right.
#5 Hawaakom – On his best days he can be somewhat competitive with some nice horses, but the depth of talent in this field will most likely be too much for him to match up against. Also, he was blown out last time by Noble Bird at Keeneland.
#7 Breaking Lucky – Gave us some positive signs when finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Woodward in what was a very close finish. Then last time out he was completely blown out in a non-graded stakes at Keeneland. Unsure what to make of him, but he has some proving to do in my eyes.
#8 Mr. Z – Was beaten last year in this race by 15 lengths, and has been beaten by 16 and 17 lengths in his last two efforts since returning from a layoff. Hard to see him turning it around today against this tough group.
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