Friday’s $500,000 Clark Handicap is Most Competitive
Friday’s Grade I $500,000 Clark Handicap has attracted a deep, strong field at Churchill Downs. Following Thanksgiving day festivities, Hoppertunity (5/2) and Effinex (5/1) will renew their rivalry. These two have won the Clark Handicap the last two years. Hoppertunity won in 2014 as the favorite, and last year they went off as co-favorites and Effinex held off a late stretch rally to beat Hoppertunity by less than a length.
Hoppertunity won the Jockey Gold Cup at Belmont in October, and finished fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic Nov. 5. John Velazquez can bring this colt from the back with a strong closing kick, or keep him near the pace as needed like his win over Effinex in the Jockey Gold Cup. Hoppertunity is a proven performer at 9 furlongs with over $2.3 million in lifetime earnings.
Effinex has over $3.3 million in earnings and won both the Oaklawn and Suburban Handicap this year. His runner-up finish in the Jockey Gold Cup was followed by a seventh place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He’ll be running on the lead, but has many solid challengers to hold off.
Noble Bird (7/2) has been strong lately winning his last two including the Grade II Hagyard Fayette Stakes at 9 furlongs Oct. 29. He has good speed up front to challenge Effinex and Gun Runner, but too much pace is the concern.
Shaman Ghost (4-1) was a late scratch at the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and the Canadian-bred was 5th in the Suburban over six lengths behind Effinex. He followed with a win in the Woodward in September with a strong closing kick to beat heavily favored Frosted. He’s been off since that race, but very strong in two works at Belmont this month.
Gun Runner (5-1) is a hard knocker and 3-time stakes winner in 2016. He’ll be a tough challenger again on his home track where he finished third in the Kentucky Derby and then won the Matt Wynn Stakes. Against solid fields he was 5th in the Haskell, 3rd in the Travers and 2nd in his last two races, the Pennsylvania Derby and Breeders’ Cup Mile.
Breaking Lucky (15-1) was in the 4-horse photo in the Woodward as a huge long shot and faces toughest yet. Are You Kidding Me (15-1) is in great form running his last four at Woodbine and winning the last two races. He was 5th in the Stephen Foster Handicap in June; a race heavily favored Effinex finished sixth.
Hawaakom (20-1), Prayer for Relief and Mr. Z, both 30-1, are past their prime and round out the field.