Churchill Downs will host its only fall meet grade one event this Friday when a field of ten contest the $400,000 Clark Handicap at 1 1/8 miles over the dirt.
Headlining the field with the top weight of 120 pounds is Dale Romans’ Preakness Stakes winner Shackleford. The four-year-old son of Forestry was set to retire after a disappointing seventh-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) earlier this month at Santa Anita. However, it wasn’t long before talk spread of running him one more time—in either the Clark or the Cigar Mile (G1) at Aqueduct Racetrack in New York.
“I wanted to run him at Churchill Downs and didn’t want to ship him,” Romans said. “He’s doing good here right now and he likes this racetrack. I think he’ll run big and the 1 1/8 miles might be a little easier on him pace wise than the (Cigar) Mile.”
Shackleford’s last six races have been run at a mile or less with his last victory coming in the one mile Metropolitan Handicap (G1) at Belmont on May 28. In his last start at Churchill Downs, Shackleford took the Churchill Downs Stakes (G2) over 2011 Male Sprint Champion Amazombie. Jockey Jesus Castanon, who led Shackleford to victory in the 2011 Preakness and a fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, will reclaim the mount.
“He ranks right up there with some of the best horses I’ve trained,” Romans said. “He’s done all he needs to do, but it’ll be hard to see him go. Horses like him are hard to replace.”
Shackleford is scheduled to enter stud next year and will stand at Darby Dan Farm in Lexington, Ky.
The second high-weight at 118 pounds is Mark Casse’s Pool Play, who will have the meet’s leading rider, Corey Lanerie, in the irons. In his last start, Pool Play finished eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), but won the Hawthorne Gold Cup (G2) one start prior. The seven-year-old son of Silver Deputy has one victory in as many starts at Churchill Downs—an upset win in last year’s Stephen Foster Handicap (G1).
“Pool Play loves Churchill Downs,” Casse said. “It’s coming back a little quick (20 days), but I think he just kind of went around the track in California. Also, this race is hard to pass up when we know he likes it here.”
Three-year-old Take Charge Indy will make his second start after an injury sustained in this year’s Kentucky Derby sidelined him for nearly six months. The Florida Derby (G1) winner finished third in his last start, the Fayette Stakes (G2) at Keeneland Oct. 27. Jockey Calvin Borel, who’s on the cusp of his 5,000 victory, will retain the mount.
“He got so much out of (the Fayette),” trainer Pat Byrne said. “I bet he’s five or six lengths better (now). I was so apprehensive going into the Fayette off a six-month layoff, but I could only train him so much. He nearly pulled it off.”
Take Charge Indy is one of a trio that will carry 117 pounds. The others being Super Derby (G2) winner Bourbon Courage and Hawthorne Gold Cup second-place finisher Cease.
Rounding out the field is Eye of the Leopard, Fast Falcon, Stealcase, and Mission Impazible.
The 1 1/8 mile race on the dirt for three-year-olds and up is the 11th race on Friday’s 12-race card, with a scheduled post time of 5:35 p.m. As Friday’s sunset is forecast to occur at 5:25 p.m., the race will be run under lights. The race can be seen on HRTV and TVG.
Photo: Courtesy Churchill Downs