When horses go to post for the grade 1 Clark Handicap on November 25, it will mark the 142nd running of the Fall meet highlight at Churchill Downs. Obviously the race has seen many great performances and its current purse of $500,000 means 2016 will probably be no different. Recent races have provided plenty of post-Breeders’ Cup excitement, so let’s take a quick look at a few in the not too distant past that were fantastic.
2015 More than a New York bred- Effinex went to post fresh off a second place finish to American Pharoah in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Trainer Jimmy Jerkens had touted his horse as more than just a New York bred. A sweeping move and strong stretch run under Mike Smith told us all Jimmy was right.
2013 Charging into history-Legendary trainer D. Wayne Lukas had a hot horse at the end of the summer of 2014. Having won the Traver’s Stakes and Pennsylvania Derby before finishing a hard charging second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the veteran conditioner knew Will Take Charge was primed for another big effort. Along came the Clark and a lineup that included California superstar Game On Dude. Using his patented late kick, the sizeable colt conquered the Dude in late stretch and secured his spot as the year’s Three-Year Old Male Eclipse Award winner.
2012 The Shack Attack-Always a courageous warrior, Shackleford ran hard every time out. A nice career that had featured a powerful score in the 2011 Preakness was supposed to end with Breeders’ Cup glory in the Dirt Mile. A bad break from the gates spoiled the party and after a seventh place finish trainer Dale Romans decided his beloved Kentucky-bred deserved one more chance. Breaking alertly, Shack led every step of the way in his racing finale and closed his career in fitting fashion.
2011 A real Wise guy-This particular running helped launch one of the better Thoroughbreds into orbit as a real superstar. Wise Dan had been a horse worth watching, but most were unsure just how good he was. Having won on the turf and over synthetic surfaces already that year, the Charlie LoPresti trained gelding wanted to do it on the dirt. Displaying his brilliance, Wise Dan gave everyone a glimpse of what was to come with a scintillating scamper to the winner’s circle. After winning the Clark, Wise Dan would enjoy 15 wins and 2 second place finishes in his next 17 starts.
2008 One smart run- Einstein was a horse that had plenty of run about him, he had just never won on dirt. Having captured the grade 1 Woodford Reserve on turf earlier in the year at Churchill, we knew he had class. But could he conquer the likes of the mighty Commentator? The gates opened and Einstein smartly stalked a softer pace by the front-running favorite. Turning for home, Einstein formulated a fantastic run to the finish as he swung to the outside and pulled away. In the coming months the Helen Pitts trained star would gain grade 1 wins on synthetic (Santa Anita Handicap) and turf (Woodford Reserve), but it was his passing of the dirt test in the Clark that scored him as one smart runner.