This weekend’s holiday racing features the Grade 1 $500,000 Clark Handicap on its traditional spot on the day after Thanksgiving, this afternoon under the Twin Spires at Churchill Downs.
A field of nine will run 1 1/8-miles around the Churchill strip in the last major route race of the year in Louisville. Dortmund, third-place finisher at Churchill in the Kentucky Derby did not make the trip from California due to a quarter crack. Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up Effinex is your morning line favorite at 5-2 and Travers winner Keen Ice is the second choice at 3-1. Post time for the Clark is 5:45 p.m. ET and it is the 11th race on the 12-race card.
Let’s take a look at the field by post position (trainer, jockey, morning line odds in parenthesis).
1 – Keen Ice (Romans, Lanerie, 3-1). The son of Curlin finished a well-beaten fourth in the Classic after giving Triple Crown champ American Pharoah his only setback in 2015 in the Travers. Will need some pace to run at and hasn’t won at the shorter distance. Seems to be an underlay at 3-1.
2 – Looks to Spare (Umarov, Lebron, 30-1). He has raced in the big leagues in his last two outings to no avail. Seems to be outclassed against this group and unlikely to hit the board.
3 – Mr. Z (Lukas, Santana, Jr., 30-1). He’s 1-for-11 this year, his only victory coming in the $500K Ohio Derby, but still comes into the race as fourth highest earner in the group as a 3-year-old. Could set the early pace, but would be a major upset if he pulled it off this afternoon for the Coach.
4 – Frivolous (Oliver, Court, 15-1). The 5-year-old daughter of Empire Maker has the stamina and success at Churchill and the distance to surprise. She’ll take on the boys coming out of a fifth-place finish in the BC Distaff. Could crash the super if all goes according to Hoyle. She gets a seven-pound weight break from Effinex and Race Day and five from Keen Ice. [UPDATE 11/26: Frivolous was scratched from the race and subsequently retired due to a tendon injury]
5 – Protonico (Pletcher, Leparoux, 8-1). After a monster spring in the Bluegrass with a couple big speed figures winning the Ben Ali at KEE and the Alysheba on Oaks day. He’s delivered two straight clunkers, including one in the Fayette on the BC Friday undercard. Has the ability and back class to win at a big price. Workouts look decent, maybe worth a shot at 8-1 or higher.
6 – Hoppertunity (Baffert, Garcia, 7-2). Consistent son of Any Given Saturday will attempt to defend his Clark title after two straight second-place finishes. Seems to like the Churchill surface and looks to be coming into the race on the upswing. Baffert wins 34 percent of the time coming off a beat as the favorite and is ITM 62 percent of the time. He’s one you may want to key around.
7 – Shotgun Kowboy (Trout, Berry, 20-1). Homebred son of Kodiak Kowboy is undefeated in three starts at Remington Park. Dorothy, we’re not at Remington anymore. Pass.
8 – Effinex (Jerkens, Smith, 5-2). This Mineshaft colt seems to relish longer distances than 9 furlongs, as he is only 1-for-4 lifetime at the distance. Comes out of a gutsy performance in the Classic finishing behind the Triple Crown winner and holding off the rest of the field, the closest being 4 lengths back.
9 – Race Day (Pletcher, Velazquez, 7-2). Pletcher/Velazquez team up to try to win this race for the first time since they won with Magna Graduate in 2005. Pletcher also won the Clark in 2007 with A.P. Arrow. He’s undefeated at the distance, comes out of a nice win in the G2 Fayette over Hoppertunity and looks to be a good bet. My pick.
Post Time Outlook: 1 – Race Day; 2 – Protonico; 3 – Hoppertunity; 4 - Effinex
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.