The stakes action rolls on in Louisville as the final Grade 1 race of the year in Kentucky, the Clark Stakes, highlights the Black Friday card at Churchill Downs. 7 of the 8 entered are graded stakes winners, headed by Grade 1 winners Maxfield and Happy Saver. I have a strong opinion on an alternative to both of them in this spot. I’m posting this early, prior to the morning line being set, so if updates are needed, I’ll edit within this post. Feel free to weigh in on any thoughts on Twitter as well @ericsolomon718 (The Guy From the Spot)!
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Race 8: Top Pick: 7
The races that bookend this late Pick-5 sequence are definitely wide open events where spreading seems like the way to go. The opening leg is a $30K N2L claiming contest, in which many of these have been kept out of the Winner’s Circle for quite some time now. Enraged (#7) has actually had his picture taken twice this year, beating maiden claimers each time. He finished first at Ellis in July, and ran against winners in his next three starts. He was subsequently disqualified from purse money from that race recently, and thus eligible to face maidens once again. He won again here last out when facing $20K maiden claimers, in a race in which he was claimed. His last several dirt efforts have been sharp enough to contend at this level. Sol de Sur (#6) has run two solid races at Indiana Grand since being claimed three back when he last raced at this level here. I would likely have made him the top pick if this race were at two turns, as opposed to seven furlongs, but he is in better form than many of these, which means something in a race like this. Tuggle (#2) is likely to go to post as the favorite in this race, as he drops in for a tag for the first time in his career. He is cutting back off a two turn effort over this course in his most recent start at the N1X allowance level. He ran poorly that day, thus warranting the drop in class. He gains the services of Tyler Gaffalione, who has been dominating in Kentucky over the last few months. He’s certainly capable of rebounding and easily beating a field like this, but the warning signs are there that he could be trending in the wrong direction. He’s run enough sharp races to use him on the A line in the horizontal exotics, but I’ll try to beat him vertically. Nip N Tuck (#8) is cross-entered in a $20K N2L race here on Thursday. He’s a better fit in that race, but he is capable here as well. He’s one that hasn’t won a race in a while, but he’s been knocking on the door with some solid efforts, most recently losing in a photo over at Indiana Grand last month. He’s done most of his damage in his career on surfaces other than dirt, but his latest indicates that he’s trending in the right direction. The Feature (#3) was wide in a 6 Furlong race at this level last out. They went pretty quick in the early stages that day, and he came up empty late. I think he’s better at 7 Furlongs, and should be more fit for this race today.
Race 9: Top Pick: 1
Despite offering the optional $62,500 tag, everyone in this eight horse field is entered under the N2X allowance conditions. Twenty Twice (#1) makes his third start of the year after showing some improvement in his last start at this level at Keeneland last month. He showed some promise as a three year old, breaking his maiden and clearing the N1X condition at this meet in 2020. He was away for ten months before coming back at this level when going 10 Furlongs. That was a huge ask for a younger horse off that kind of layoff, and he ran into a horse, Colonelsdarktemper, that ran a monster race, posting a triple digit Beyer figure. His next start was much sharper, and now he returns to a surface that he has shown a fondness for. Allege (#2) has faced some tough foes in his last two starts at this level, running second in the same race Twenty Twice was in two back. He came up empty three weeks ago in another 10 Furlong allowance contest. However ,I don’t think this field has the depth that his last two starts did, so I’m expecting him to rebound nicely here. Huge Bigly (#4) was running quality races on turf before returning to the dirt in the same race here three weeks ago. He ran a monster effort that day, finishing second at long odds and posting a career top speed figure. Irad Ortiz takes the mount as Reylu Gutierrez, who was riding very well here this month, is riding in New Orleans. I’m not fully convinced that he can run back to that race three weeks later, but there’s enough positives there to consider using him on deeper plays. Patagonia (#3) is the wild card in this spot, making his first start since March of 2020. He’s clearly had some physical issues as he’s got some very sporadic running lines. However, he has always fired fresh, albeit off shorter layoffs. Gaffalione sees fit to take the mount on this first time gelding, so I’ll cover him as well.
Race 10: Top Pick: 12
Despite the large field, Milliken (#12) is likely going to go in the starting gate as a well-deserved short priced favorite. He was a very impressive maiden winner at Ellis at the end of August. He ran into a fierce competitor in Olympiad in his first start against winners at Keeneland last month. That one was a runner up to Baby Yoda when he ran a season high 114 Beyer figure at Saratoga in September. Those two dueled to the wire in a very strong effort that day, and they were well clear of the third palace finisher, Notary (#3), who is back again in this race. The outside draw should improve the chances of a clean trip, and I believe he should have no issue getting the extra furlong in his third career start, especially in a race where he looks better than his competition. Perhaps the most logical alternative to the favorite, used to be in the same barn as him. Tiz Rye Time (#13) will need help to participate, as he’s on the also-eligible list here. He was claimed from Ian Wilkes for $50K two starts back at Keeneland. He made his first start for Saffie Joseph two weeks ago in the slop at two turns. He hasn’t won since breaking his maiden at this distance at Gulfstream, almost two years ago. However, he has been running hard and improving of late.
Race 11: The Grade 1 Clark Stakes: Top Pick: 1
The final Grade 1 Stakes of the year in Kentucky is a good one, featuring eight strong runners. Despite the quality of field that has been assembled, it feels like it’s Midnight Bourbon’s (#1) race to lose. There’s no one that has shown the ability to go with him early on in this nine furlong contest. He’s at his best when he’s loose on the lead, like he was in the Lecomte and the Travers. He looks to become the 5th three year old to win this race since 2009, and the first since Gun Runner did so back in 2016. He looks to be on the same trajectory as Gun Runner, who was also campaigned by Asmussen. He’s a horse that competed hard in the Triple Crown and ran well in the signature races in the summer, while showing improvement. He didn’t compete in the Breeders’ Cup earlier in the month in favor of waiting for this spot to tackle older foes for the first time. He shows up every time, finishing on the board in 10 of 12 starts, and having legitimate excuses in the two off the board finishes. Assuming the track is playing fairly, I think he takes this group gate to wire, and establishes himself as a serious contender in the handicap division for 2022. This race will be the swan song for a lightly raced, but very talented horse in Maxfield (#8). He puts his perfect 4-4 record on the line at Churchill today, while trying to win his first Grade 1 race since winning the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland in his second career start. He’s another one that always shows up on race day, winning 7 of 10 starts and never finishing off the board. He definitely needs to be respected, but I think Midnight Bourbon will simply sit the better trip today. I’ll cover with him, but most of my money will go on the three year old.
Race 12 Top Pick: 1
I found this twelve horse starter allowance race to be extremely tough to figure out, and I’m going to try to position myself to get as much coverage as I can afford in this spot. I ended up making Greener Pastures (#1) my top pick, getting back on the dirt after fading late in a two turn turf race at this level at Keeneland last month. He closed well to win on this course with $50K N2L claimers two starts back. He’s learned to be effective coming from farther back, as opposed to trying to do all of the heavy lifting on the front end, like he was doing when he was racing here this spring. I think his new tactics will help him be more effective in this race. Brew Crew (#2) was claimed last out in a race where he threw in an unusual clunker. Joe Sharp brings him back in a protected spot, which is a positive sign for a horse that was very sharp at Ellis a few months ago. Extreme (#10) was a strong maiden winner at Keeneland last month, dominating a $50K maiden claiming field by over seven lengths. Ray Handal claimed him that day out of a spot where he was getting significant class relief. He worked well at Turfway last week and looks ready to try to tackle winners for the first time. Cousteau (#8) is another maiden claiming winner that faces winners for the first time for his new connections. He handled his business two weeks ago on this course. Irad Ortiz gets the call for Maker today. On deeper tickets, Mish (#11) is yet another strong maiden claiming winner that could impact this race for his new connections. His last race came in the slop, so he’ll have to prove that he can be as fast on a dryer track. One Fast Cat (#6) faltered at this level last out as a heavy favorite in his first start off the claim. He has some fast races in his past, and he’ll likely be overbet as a result. I’ll use him as a saver on some deeper plays, but I’ll need to get him longer odds to think about him vertically. On Your Mark (#7) was sharp last out, earning a third place finish against a softer field at this condition three weeks ago. He’ll need to take a step forward, but getting Rosario to ride is a step in the right direction.
All A’s ($1 Base Wager – $24.00)
All A’s/B’s ($0.50 Base Wager – $30.00)
4 A’s/ 1 C ($0.50 Base Wager – $12.00)
4 A’s / 1 C ($0.50 Base Wager – $12.00)
4 A’s / 1 C ($0.50 Base Wager – $9.00)
Total Wagered: $87.00