Shackleford, a multiple Grade I winner of more than $2.8 million, will seek to end his career on a high note when he makes his final start in Friday’s 138th running of the $400,000-added Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) at Churchill Downs.
The 1 1/8-mile Clark, named for Churchill Downs founder Col. M. Lewis Clark, is one of four stakes created for the inaugural meeting in 1875. It will highlight Churchill Downs’ 12-race “Black Friday” racing program, which begins at 12:40 p.m. (all times Eastern). The Clark goes as Race 11 at 5:35 p.m., which means it will be contested under the lights for the second consecutive year because sunset is 5:25 p.m.
Mike Lauffer, Bill Cubbedge and Phillips Racing Partnership’s Shackleford, the 120-pound highweight in the field of 10, will be making his first start at the Louisville track since defeating Amazombie, 2011 champion male sprinter, in the Churchill Downs (GII) on the Kentucky Derby Day undercard. He returned in the Met Mile (GI) at Belmont Park and scored a narrow victory over Caleb’s Posse. In his most recent start, he finished a troubled seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI) at Santa Anita.
Trainer Dale Romans chose the Clark Handicap over Saturday’s Cigar Mile (GI) at Aqueduct as the final race for Shackleford, who will stand stud atDarby Dan Farm.
“I wanted to run him at Churchill Downs and didn’t want to ship him,” Romans said. “He’s doing good here right now and he likes this racetrack. I think he’ll run big and the 1 1/8 miles might be a little easier on him pace wise than the (Cigar) Mile.”
The Clark will be the first start at a distance greater than one mile for the 4-year-old Shackleford since finishing seventh in the Donn Handicap (GI) at Gulfstream Park in February. He began his 3-year-old campaign with a 2 ¼-length victory in a 1 1/8-mile allowance at Gulfstream and went on to win the 1 3/16-mile Preakness (GI) over Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) winner Animal Kingdom.
Jesus Castanon, who was aboard for Shackleford’s Preakness victory, will be reunited with the chestnut son of Forestry and guide him from post three.
“He ranks right up there with some of the best horses I’ve trained,” Romans said. “He’s done all he needs to do, but it’ll be hard to see him go. Horses like him are hard to replace.”
Weighted at 118 pounds and breaking from the rail under the Spring Meet’s leading rider Corey Lanerie is Bill Farish Jr.’s Pool Play, winner of the 2011 Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) at Churchill Downs.
Trained by Mark Casse, Pool Play won the Hawthorne Gold Cup (GII) and then finished eighth behind Fort Larned in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) at Santa Anita on Nov. 3.
“Pool Play loves Churchill Downs,” Casse said. “It’s coming back a little quick (20 days), but I think he just kind of went around the track in California. Also, this race is hard to pass up when we know he likes it here.”
Two of the main rivals for Shackleford and Pool Play could be 3-year-olds Take Charge Indy and Bourbon Courage who are both weighted at 117 pounds.
Chuck and Maribeth Sandford LLC’s Take Charge Indy won the Florida Derby (GI) at Gulfstream in March and then ran 19th of 20 in the Kentucky Derby. He exited the latter with a chip in his left front ankle and was sidelined for the summer. A dark bay or brown son of A.P. Indy out of the three-time Grade I-winning mare Take Charge Lady, Take Charge Indy returned off a near six-month layoff in the Fayette (GII) on the Polytrack at Keeneland and finished third behind Newsdad and Nikki’s Sandcastle.
“He got so much out of (the Fayette),” trainer Pat Byrne said. “I bet he’s five or six lengths better (now). I was so apprehensive going into the Fayette off a six-month layoff, but I could only train him so much. He nearly pulled it off.”
Take Charge Indy will break from post six under Calvin Borel, who enters the week just four wins shy of becoming the 26th jockey to reach the 5,000-win milestone.
Bourbon Lane Stable and Wayne Lynn’s Bourbon Courage enters the Clark off a runner-up finish to Neck ’n Neck in the Indiana Derby (GII). Prior to that effort, the bay son of Lion Heart won the Super Derby (GII) at Louisiana Downs for trainer Kellyn Gorder.
“(The Clark) has been our big target (since the Indiana Derby),” Gorder said. “It’s kind of like our Breeders’ Cup.”
Bourbon Courage will break from post four under Leandro Goncalves.
Also weighted at 117 pounds is Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider’s Cease, runner-up to Pool Play in the Hawthorne Gold Cup. Prior to that effort, the 5-year-old gelded son of War Chant finished third behind To Honor and Serve and Mucho Macho Man in the Woodward (GI) at Saratoga. The Al Stall Jr. trainee will break from post five under Miguel Mena.
The field for the Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare, from the rail out (with jockey and weight): Pool Play (Lanerie, 118), Eye of the Leopard (Jon Court, 115), Shackleford (Castanon, 120), Bourbon Courage (Goncalves, 117), Cease (Mena, 117), Take Charge Indy (Borel, 117), Fast Falcon (Shaun Bridgmohan, 113), Stealcase (Brian Hernandez Jr., 115), Mission Impazible (Javier Castellano, 115) and Lunar Victory (Junior Alvarado, 116).