Competitive graded action dominates the card at Churchill Downs on Friday, with the feature coming in the form of the Clark Stakes. This race is a Grade 2 affair, with horses aged three and older competing for a share of the $600,000 purse. A field of ten have been declared to run in the race this week, which will cover a distance of 1 1/8 miles on the dirt.
History & Records
The Clark Stakes has been an ever-present on the schedule at Churchill Downs, as it has been staged annually since the track was opened in 1875. However, it will be run as a Grade 2 this year, meaning it has been demoted from a Grade 1 for the first time.
Horses aged three and older will compete in the race, and there have been three multiple-time winners of the race. The most recent was Bob’s Dusty, who landed a second win in the Clark in 1978. Pat Day and Isaac Burns Murphy are tied for the most wins as a jockey, while Bob Baffert, Smiley Adams, and Ben Jones have all landed three training successes.
Brad Cox previously won the Clark Stakes in 2018 with Leofric, and he holds a very strong chance this weekend. First Mission has been largely progressive throughout the 2023 season, and he will be making his fifth career start this weekend. He looks ready for this step up in distance after dominating each of his previous three over 1 1/16.
The pick of his performances came in the G3 Lexington, as he scored a speed rating of 106 when holding off Arabian Lion and Disarm. That appears to be the strongest form in this race, and if at his best, he could be challenging to overlook.
Il Miracolo represents the Antonio Sano yard this weekend, and the three-year-old has been hugely progressive throughout the season, scoring a higher speed rating with every appearance on the track. The runner comes into this weekend after holding his own at the highest level throughout the season, including when third in the G1 Pennsylvania Derby.
His most recent run came when second in the G2 Fayette Stakes, as he was just held off by shock winner O’Connor over 1 1/8 miles. His experience over this distance is excellent, and he is a runner with huge targets on the agenda already, as he could be seen in late January in the G1 Pegasus World Cup.
The value selection in the betting could come in the form of Giant Game for trainer Dale Romans this weekend. The four-year-old has been a high-class operator throughout his career, dating back to 2021 when he was an excellent third in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He has shown his ability on a number of occasions already this term, including when winning the G3 Cornhusker Handicap in July.
He was far from disgraced when fifth in the G1 Whitney, and he enjoyed a decent prep when second behind Gasoline over 1 1/16 at Churchill Downs earlier this month. His speed could be a fascinating angle for bettors this weekend, as he could be away and gone if he is able to get an easy lead in the Clark.
Clark Stakes Prediction
We are very high on the chances of First Mission this weekend, as he looks to be the progressive runner in this field for Brad Cox. The three-year-old has some solid form on paper, and if at his best, he could be hard to beat. Giant Game could be an excellent outsider, and he would be a great chance to finish second for exotic players.
Pick: First Mission (bet at MyBookie)
Exacta: First Mission/Giant Game