For horseplayers, Black Friday has a different meaning. It is not out to the mall for some Christmas shopping, it is trying to keep the bankroll in the black, and we will try to accomplish that feat by heading to the betting windows for the $500,000 Clark Handicap (G1) at Churchill Downs.
A field of 10 will line up and seven of the runners have earned over $1 million in their careers and the winner of the last two editions will square off.
Hoppertunity, the Clark winner in 2014 is the 3-1 morning line favorite for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. The five-year-old was beaten 11 ½ lengths by Arrogate in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) in his last outing.
Last year’s Clark winner Effinex (4-1) comes into this year’s edition of a dull seventh place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic where he was beaten 24 lengths.
His stablemate Shaman Ghost (8-1) missed the Classic with a fever, and makes his first start since winning the Woodward (G1) at Saratoga on Sept. 3.
Noble Bird (7-2) has run some big ones this year, winning the Pimlico Special (G3) by 11 ¼ lengths with a 110 Beyer and the Fayette (G2) last out with a 106.
Gun Runner (4-1) was a solid second in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) in his last outing and won the Matt Winn (G3) over the main track here in June. He was third in the Kentucky Derby (G1), beaten 4 ½ lengths by Nyquist.
Completing the field are Are You Kidding Me (15-1), Hawaakom (10-1), Breaking Lady (8-1), Mr. Z (30-1) and Prayer for Relief (30-1).
The Clark is the 11th race on a 12-race card at Churchill Downs on Friday. The supporting features are the $200,000 Mrs. Revere (G2) and the $80,000 Dream Supreme.
We have a great holiday weekend of races including a pair of Road to the Kentucky Derby points races on Saturday—the $300,000 Remsen (G2) at Aqueduct and the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs.
Coast to coast there are 20 graded stakes between Thursday and Sunday.
Let’s head out to Churchill Downs for Friday’s featured race of the day:
Churchill Downs Race 11 The Clark Handicap (G1) Post time 5:56 ET
6 Noble Bird 7-2
9 Hoppertunity 3-1
1 Gun Runner 4-1
4 Shaman Ghost 8-1
Noble Bird comes into this race off a sharp gate to wire win in the Fayette (G2) over the main track here. The five-year-old won the Lukas Classic in gate to wire here two back and has landed in the exacta in three of his four trips under the Twin Spires. He won the Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) here last June, but then was beaten 24 ½ lengths in his next start.
He earned a career top speed fig winning the Pimlico Special (G3) back in May and then was beaten in his next two starts by a combined 30 lengths. He may have the tactical advantage here if able to shake loose early and that may depend on what kind of early zip we see out of Mr. Z. I’ll take a positive look he won’t regress in this spot but would like to catch most of the 7-2 morning line.
Hoppertunity won the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) two back at Belmont Park and I gave him a good shot of pulling off the upset in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) but he did not get enough pace to run at and ran his usual race, which was good enough for just fourth as the top pair ran huge.
The Baffert trainee has run well here, taking this race in 2014 and running second to Effinex last year. He certainly is more reliable than our top pick as he just seems to run consistently, earning triple digit Beyers in 10 of his last 12 starts, and 99 figs in those other two trips.
Gun Runner tracked the early pace, took over the lead and could not hold off my top pick Tamarkuz in deep stretch in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) and had to settle for second. He ran well in a runner up finish in the Pennsylvania Derby (G2) two back at nine furlongs and he has run well over the main track here, winning the matt Winn (G3) and running third in the Kentucky Derby (G1). He took the field gate to wire in his Matt Winn victory and with the rail draw figures to be in the mix early.
WIN: Noble Bird to win at 3-1 or better.
EXACTA: 6,9 / 1,4,6,9
TRIFECTA: 6,9 / 1,4,6,9 / 1,2,4,6,9
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