The traditional running of the Clark Handicap on the day after Thanksgiving at Churchill Downs is set for this afternoon under the Twin Spires. Bob Baffert ships in Hoppertunity (3-1) to face off against Diversify (5-2) in the nine-horse field going 1 1/8-miles in Race 11 on Friday.
The two main contenders will start from opposite ends of the gate, with Hoppertunity leaving from the rail and Diversify from outside post No. 9.
Last year’s winner, Gun Runner, went on to a big year in 2017 and will likely take Horse of the Year and older male honors in January at the annual Eclipse Awards.
Here’s a look at the entries for the Clark (post position, horse, trainer, jockey, ML odds in parenthesis):
1 – Hoppertunity (Baffert, Geroux, 3-1). Baffert starts 2014 race winner in seeking his fourth Clark win over his illustrious career. Geroux looks for back-to-back Clark wins after last year’s effort aboard Gun Runner. After a sixth-place finish in the Dubai World Cup, he was off until finishing second in last month’s Comma To The Top. Not sure he’s returned to form off of that effort where he finished over four lengths behind the winner. Will be looking elsewhere.
2 – Seeking the Soul (Stewart, Velazquez, 6-1). Dangerous combination at a reasonable price. Major step up in class to a Grade 1, but Dallas Stewart typically has his horses ready for big efforts in big races. Interesting that Johnny V jumped off the TAP horse to ride for Stewart here. Major player in the exotics.
3 – Good Samaritan (Mott, Rosario, 8-1). He had it his way in the Jim Dandy where the pace scenario favored his win. A non-factor in both the Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup at the classic distances. May improve over the shorter distance, but not a lot of pace to run at with The Player and Diversify looking to be the speed.
4 – Destin (Pletcher, Santana Jr., 10-1). Winner of the 1 ¾-mile Marathon on the Breeders’ Cup undercard. Curious that Pletcher loses his first call jock to basically an allowance horse. He seems to prefer the longer distances, but he’s hard to trust in this spot.
5 – Goats Town (Lukas, Landeros, 30-1). Another big step up in class for this Lukas charge. Strong effort in his last, an optional claimer. Tough to see him being a factor against this group.
6 – Mo Town (Amoss, Hernandez, 20-1). The son of Uncle Mo is 0-for-7 in 2017. Make it 0-for-8. Pass.
7 – The Player (Bradley, Borel, 6-1). Interesting son of Street Hero who comes out of an impressive Grade 2 win at Keeneland, albeit on a sloppy track. Has a second-place finish over the surface in a G3 in the Ack Ack and the king of Churchill in the irons. His early speed could be a factor in pressuring Diversify out of the gate and will be one to watch during the early stages of the race. Contender.
8 – Honorable Duty (Walsh, Lanerie, 5-1). Horse for the course, who has been in the exacta five times in six career races at Churchill. If you draw a line through the sloppy track effort, he fits in with these and I’ll include him in the exacta.
9 – Diversify (Violette, I Ortiz, Jr., 5-2). Draws top New York rider to Kentucky and comes off a G1 Jockey Club Gold Cup win. He’s the one to beat and has a three-race win streak coming into the race in solid form. With not a lot of speed in the race, it looks like he could control the pace setting the early fractions and should be the one to catch. The pick.
Post Time Outlook: 1 – Diversify; 2 – Honorable Duty; 3 – Seeking the Soul; 4 – Hoppertunity
Longshot Play: The Player
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.