The Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs is traditionally one of the top races in the late fall. Before the Breeders’ Cup came into play it was the target for many top horses. Over the past 30 years it comes just long enough after the Breeders’ Cup and soon enough before Christmas, to attract some of the sport’s finest. Serving as an opportunity to compete at a high level for 141 years, the Clark has been a proving ground. For one perhaps underappreciated colt and one veteran rider, the 2015 rendition was more of the same.

Effinex is a four-year old son of Mineshaft that has run in the shadow of others throughout the past two seasons. Having visited the winner’s circle six times since the beginning of 2014, Effinex had put his best hoof forward on several occasions, just never in a grade 1 race. Never mentioned in the same breath as Tonalist, Honor Code, or Wicked Strong, Effinex was somewhat the Rodney Dangerfield of the New York circuit. Trainer Jimmy Jerkens had proudly proclaimed his horse to be more than just another “New York bred” and the Clark would give him a chance to prove just that. Fresh off a runner-up finish to American Pharoah in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Jerkens and his colt were ready to take on a talented field as he had hall-of fame jockey Mike Smith back in the irons.

As fate would have it, a rising colt and a veteran jock were the perfect combination in the Clark. When the gates opened for this 141st running, Effinex broke just a step slow so Smith alertly allowed his mount to settle in behind a solid early pace. Biding his time behind the front runners, Smith saw his chance and began moving at the half-mile pole. Moving through the far turn and battling for the lead, Effinex was looking the competition in the eye and fighting like Rocky Balboa. Narrowly leading a group of five horses into the final furlong, Smith urged his colt and he responded as he surged clear by ¾ of a length at the finish.

“He’s just a good quality horse and when we knew we could get Mike to ride it made the decision to run here a lot easier,” says Jerkens. “He’s got a grade 1 win now and we wanted that for him. I think he had proven himself before but this should certainly quiet down some of his doubters.”

Effinex ran strong for sure, but the performance of his rider was noteworthy as well. Riding him for only the second time (Breeders’ Cup Classic was the first), Smith got another big effort from his horse in hall of fame fashion. With over 5,200 career wins he obviously is a guy that knows what to handle the thunder and guide the lightning.

“Mike has been around forever and he still rides as good as he ever did,” says Jerkens. “He has always been the best at helping a horse sustain his bid. For some reason under Mike they just always seem to keep going even if you think they moved a little early. He develops a good rhythm with the horse and that’s what the great ones do.”

Smith’s ride was indeed another brilliant performance in a fantastic career that began in 1982 at the age of 16. What makes it even more amazing is just the day before, the hall of famer booted home The Pizza Man at Del Mar with a tactically tantalizing run in the Hollywood Turf Cup. Proving once again he is top talent, Smith traveled cross country and got the best out of another.

“I’m very blessed to have these opportunities,” says a humble Smith. “Sometimes its like you are a hired gun when you come in and ride these good horses. When you have a chance to ride this type of horse you just try and stay out of their way. Effinex is a little particular in some of the things he does so I just try and go with him and so far so good.”

That about sums the Clark up for the Effinex team and Smith…so far so good!