Proxy wins the 2022 renewal of the Clark (Coady Photography)
By Ashley Tamulonis
On Friday, December 16 the American Graded Stakes Committee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association (TOBA) announced its revisions to the graded and/or listed status of all U.S. stakes races with a purse of at least $75,000 for 2023.
In Part 1 of this series, I looked at the upgrading of the Stephen Foster from a grade two to a grade one race and concluded that was a justified and necessary change. In Part 2 of this series, I reviewed the downgrading of the Cigar Mile and determined that the committee had gotten it wrong. In Part 3 of the series, I disagreed with the downgrading of the historic Woodward, judging that logic had no place when ignoring tradition. In Part 4, I will address the downgrading of the Clark Stakes from a grade one race to a grade two event. As with the previous races, I will do a quick overview of the last five years, or from 2018-2022.
In 2018, multiple graded stakes winner Leofric earned his only grade one victory when he held off multiple grade one placed Bravazo by a neck. Grade one winner Seeking the Soul was another 2 ¾-lengths back in third. Grade one placed Prime Attraction rounded out the superfecta. The order of finish was completed by multiple graded stakes winner Hence, graded stakes winner Hawaakom, graded stakes placed Storm Advisory, and stakes placed Sightforsoreeyes.
Like Leofric the year before, Tom’s d’Etat earned his only top tier victory when he won the 2019 Clark. Grade one placed runners Owendale, Mr Freeze, and Draft Pick completed the superfecta. Other notable runners in 2019 were Seeking the Soul, Bravazo, multiple graded stakes winner Mocito Rojo, and grade one placed Snapper Sinclair.
In keeping up the trend, 2020 Clark winner Bodexpress nabbed his first career grade one victory while facing a talented field. Grade one winner Code of Honor, multiple grade one placed Owendale, and mild longshot Coastal Defense ran second, third, and fourth respectively. Included in this field were grade one placed runners Mr Freeze, By My Standards, and Multiplier; graded stakes winners Silver Prospector, Title Ready, Plus Que Parfait, and Phantom Currency; and graded stakes placed Bourbon Calling, Crafty Daddy, and Aurelius Maximus.
Well regarded Maxfield got the monkey off his back when he prevailed by ½-length of grade one winner Happy Saver in the 2021 Clark. Multiple grade one placed Midnight Bourbon was third with the second longest shot in the field Militarist was fourth. Graded stakes winners King Fury, Night Ops, Dr Post (multiple grade one placed), and Chess Chief finished fifth through eighth in that order.
Proxy earned his first ever graded stakes triumph by surging past graded stakes winner West Will Power, who picked up a grade one placing here, late in the stretch to win this year’s edition of the Clark. Multiple graded stakes winner Fulsome also earned a grade one placing from this race by finishing third. Graded stakes winner Last Samurai was fourth, graded stakes placed Injunction was fifth, and Rich Strike, the upset winner of this year’s Kentucky Derby, was sixth and last.
The winners of the last five editions of the Clark all earned their only career grade one win in the Clark. If you go back just one more year, you will find that Seeking the Soul began that trend as his 2017 Clark triumph was also the only grade one victory on his résumé. The rivals these six faced were solid, competitive types, but one thing in particular can also be said about each field. None of them included the top handicap or 3-year-old runners.
With the Clark taking place just three weeks after the Breeders’ Cup races, it tends to attract the horses that stood no chance in the championships. Instead of running up the track on the national stage, their trainers point them here in the hopes of picking up an easy grade one. Very rarely do we get horses like Gun Runner, who finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, or Rich Strike, who finished fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, wheel back for the Clark. Interestingly enough, the 2016 Clark was Gun Runner’s first ever top tier win, but he went on to win multiple grade ones and two Eclipse Awards the next year.
Given that the year-end goal for all the top talent is the Breeders’ Cup races, with the Clark being held just three weeks after that, and that the last six winners of the race earned their only career grade one victory in this event, the Graded Stakes committee reached the appropriate conclusion in downgrading the Clark to a grade two race. With horses being run less frequently and the top talent being retired or rested post-Breeders’ Cup, I do not foresee a scenario in which future editions begin to habitually attract true grade one types like it once did.