Kevin Kerstein, Churchill Downs Communications
Photo Credit NYRA
G M B Racing’s multiple graded stakes winner Tom’s d’Etat is set to bid for Grade I glory in Friday’s $600,000 Clark Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) against Charles Fipke’s 2017 Clark champion Seeking the Soul and 10 others in a competitive 145th renewal of the 1 1/8-mile premiere event at the Churchill Downs Fall Meet.
The Clark heads a duo of stakes races on the 12-race “Black Friday” card on the day after Thanksgiving that is traditionally the most popular racing day Churchill Downs’ Fall Meet. The main event is scheduled as the 11th race at 5:56 p.m. (all times Eastern) on the Friday program that also features the 29th running of the $300,000 Mrs. Revere (GII) for 3-year-old fillies on turf. Post time for Friday’s first race is 1 p.m.
Like the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (GI) and the Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI), the Clark was run for the first time in 1875’s inaugural racing meet at Churchill Downs, which was then known as the Louisville Jockey Club. The Clark, the Derby and the Oaks have been run each year without interruption since their debuts.
Tom’s d’Etat (15-8-2-1—$886,892), trained by veteran horseman Al Stall Jr., won the $300,000 Fayette (GII) on closing day of Keeneland’s Fall Meet, a race that is traditionally used as a prep race for the Clark. The 6-year-old son of Smart Strike has been in top form since a nonplused ninth-place effort in the $9 million Pegasus World Cup (GI) in late January at Gulfstream Park. Tom’s d’Etat’s 2019 campaign included a victory in the $100,000 Alydar Stakes at Saratoga, a runner-up effort in the $400,000 Alysheba (GII) and a third-place finish in the $600,000 Stephen Foster (GII) at Churchill Downs.
“He definitely deserves a Grade I,” Stall said. “(The Clark) was the perfect race to go to after the Fayette. He is stabled here and handles Churchill very well.”
Joel Rosario, one of the nation’s leading riders, will ride Tom’s d’Etat who drew post position No. 2.
Among Tom’s d’Etat’s rivals in the Clark is 2017 Clark hero Seeking the Soul (30-7-6-7—$3,414,153), who will attempt to become only the fourth horse to win multiple runnings of the Clark. Trained by Dallas Stewart, Seeking the Soul had an unsuccessful journey to California for his last three starts with off-the-board finishes in the $1 million Pacific Classic (GI), $300,000 Awesome Again (GI) and $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI).
“We’re back at Churchill where we know he likes to win,” Stewart said. “He looks like he did when he was preparing for the 2017 Clark. We’re very excited to get him in the gate Friday.”
Brian Hernandez Jr. will be reunited with Seeking the Soul from post 11.
Seeking the Soul and Tom’s d’Etat are familiar foes and have faced one another three times over the last year with Seeking the Soul getting the best of Tom’s d’Etat twice: a runner-up effort in the Pegasus World Cup and victory in the Stephen Foster.
Another rival to Tom’s d’Etat and Seeking the Soul in the Clark is Calumet Farm’s homebred Bravazo (17-3-4-3—$2,003,528), who will be making his first start in 10 months after he finished fourth in the Pegasus World Cup. Bravazo, a 4-year-old colt by Awesome Again, danced in nearly every dance during his 3-year-old campaign, including a narrow runner-up effort behind eventual Triple Crown winner Justify in the $1.5 million Preakness (GI) and a neck defeat in last year’s Clark.
Trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, Luis Saez has the mount in the Clark and will break from post 10.
Also entered in the Clark is Rupp Racing’s up-and-coming 3-year-old colt Owendale (13-5-1-2—$958,725), who continued to improve throughout his 2019 campaign with victories in the $500,000 Ohio Derby (GIII) and $400,000 Oklahoma Derby (GIII). Owendale tested Grade I waters in the Breeders’ Cup Classic but finished a disappointing 10th. Conditioned by Brad Cox, Owendale will get the riding services of Florent Geroux out of post 8. Cox will defend his title in the Clark after winning last year’s event with Leofric.
Another entrant in the Clark is Wayne Davis’ $250,000 Lukas Classic (GIII) upset winner Mocito Rojo, who hopes to rebound from an enigmatic seventh-place effort in the Fayette. Filemon Rodriguez has the mount for trainer Shane Wilson from post 3.
C R K Stable’s 2018 Affirmed (GIII) winner Draft Pick (13-3-3-3—$513,480) will make the journey from his Southern California base to Churchill Downs for trainer Peter Eurton. His regular pilot Joe Talamo will be in the irons from the rail. Talamo, a Louisiana-native who has spent most of his career competing in Southern California, is scheduled to move his tack to Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark. this winter and compete on the Kentucky circuit in the spring.
Mary and Chester Browman Sr.’s Mr. Buff (32-11-6-4—$869,536) will travel to Churchill Downs from his base in New York for the Clark. The 5-year-old trained by John Kimmel recently bested state-bred competition in the $300,000 Empire Classic at Belmont Park. Mr. Buff will break from post 7 with Junior Alvarado aboard.
The Clark field is rounded out by Jim Bakke and Gerald Isbister’s $150,000 Ack Ack (GIII) winner and Fayette runner-up Mr Freeze; Sareen Family Trust’s allowance winner Major Cabbie; Bloom Racing’s $750,000 Tourist Mile hero Snapper Sinclair; Robert and Bart Evans’ allowance victor Fact Finding; and Lawrence Roman, Heads Up Racing and Lucky Dog Stables’ recent $150,000 claim Pioneer Spirit.
The complete Clark Handicap field from the rail out (with jockey and trainer): Draft Pick (Talamo, Eurton); Tom’s d’Etat (Rosario, Stall); Mocito Rojo (Rodriguez, Wilson); Major Cabbie (Paco Lopez, Peter Miller); Snapper Sinclair (Ricardo Santana Jr., Steve Asmussen); Fact Finding (Corey Lanerie, Charlie LoPresti); Mr. Buff (Junior Alvarado, John Kimmel); Owendale (Geroux, Cox); Mr Freeze (Robby Albarado, Dale Romans); Bravazo (Saez, Lukas); Seeking the Soul (Hernandez, Stewart); and Pioneer Spirit (David Cohen, Robertino Diodoro).
New for 2019, the Clark is no longer a handicap race. All horses will tote 121 pounds with the exception of Grade I winner Seeking the Soul, who will carry 123 pounds, and 3-year-old Owendale at 118 pounds.