Analysis: No one matches Midnight Bourbon's class in Clark

Analysis: No one matches Midnight Bourbon's class in Clark
Photo: Scott Serio/Eclipse Sportswire

After reading more opinions and glancing at the morning line for the Grade 1, $500,000 Clark Stakes at Churchill Downs on Friday, it is clear that not everyone shares the opinion that Midnight Bourbon holds every advantage in this race. In fact, the oddsmaker surprisingly made Maxfield the morning-line favorite instead of Midnight Bourbon. 

If Midnight Bourbon does not go favored, he will start as one of the biggest overlays in a long time. From a class standpoint, Midnight Bourbon is on another level compared with older colts such as Maxfield and Dr Post.

In his last two races alone, Midnight Bourbon lost by a neck to Essential Quality in the Travers Stakes (G1) and lost by 2 1/4 lengths to Hot Rod Charlie in the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) one month later in September.

Midnight Bourbon had to endure trouble in the Pennsylvania Derby, as Hot Rod Charlie took him out extremely wide on the final turn of the race.

Despite the incident, Midnight Bourbon kept trying in the stretch.

If Essential Quality or Hot Rod Charlie competed in this race, either of them would start as the favorite over Maxfield and Midnight Bourbon. Through the season, they were regarded as two of the best dirt routers in the country. Their third- and fourth-place finishes in the Breeders’ Cup Classic behind a loose pacesetter in Knicks Go did not cost them respect, for the most part.

Now Midnight Bourbon switches from Essential Quality and Hot Rod Charlie to facing older runners such as Maxfield and Dr Post, the 2-3 finishers behind Art Collector in the Woodward Stakes (G1) at Belmont. 

In the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Art Collector faded to sixth by 14 1/2 lengths behind the winner Knicks Go. He also ended up finishing 11 lengths behind Essential Quality and 10 lengths behind Hot Rod Charlie. Art Collector does not belong in the same group as Knicks Go, Medina Spirit, Essential Quality and Hot Rod Charlie, yet Maxfield failed to pass Art Collector in the Woodward, even after saving ground and tipping out.

Why is Maxfield even considered a top horse?

Maxfield’s two Churchill Downs wins this season came in the Alysheba Stakes (G2) and Stephen Foster Stakes (G2) against opponents such as Visitant, Chess Chief, Warrior’s Charge and Sprawl. His other win came in the Mineshaft Stakes (G3) in February at Fair Grounds.

Pay extra attention to Maxfield’s Grade 1 attempts in 2021.

In his first Grade 1 attempt of the year, Maxfield lost to Idol and Express Train in the Santa Anita Handicap (G1). Maybe 1 1/4 miles was too long?

In August, Maxfield made a mild move in the Whitney Stakes (G1) at Saratoga to pick up second behind Knicks Go. The effort is fine, although Maxfield never was a threat and lost by 4 1/2 lengths as Knicks Go widened his lead late.

Then in the Woodward, Maxfield failed to pass Art Collector after saving all the ground. To give him credit, he did outfinish Dr Post for second, but Dr Post also took the wide route on the turn and suffered from ground loss.

Perhaps Maxfield is aChurchill Downs specialist who will transform into a top horse on Friday in the Clark. On paper, he looks like a decent closer who fits well in Grade 2 races and weaker Grade 1 spots.

Midnight Bourbon has competed in five straight Grade 1 races against the best of his crop leading up to the Clark Stakes. In addition to his runner-up efforts in the Travers and Pennsylvania Derby, he contested a fast early pace with Medina Spirit in the Preakness Stakes and ran on well to finish second over Medina Spirit in third. 

To add another point on Midnight Bourbon’s side, he owns speed. He is projected to lead the Clark Stakes uncontested, while Maxfield tends to close from mid-pack. Maxfield or another horse could try to adjust, but if any horse tries to run with Midnight Bourbon early, that horse is toast.

Remember, Midnight Bourbon is used to contesting the pace with the likes of Medina Spirit, Following Sea and Hot Rod Charlie. There is no runner in this race who owns the same type of early speed as those three names.

Midnight Bourbon is the top selection.

For value underneath, think about using King Fury. In his most recent start, this closer had no pace in the Fayette Stakes (G2) at Keeneland on his way to finishing a well-beaten third. Two starts ago, King Fury won the local Bourbon Trail Stakes by a lofty 13 lengths, which is a great sign he enjoys this track. Three starts ago in the Travers, he had no pace to work with on his way to finishing a distant fifth.

King Fury will not receive a setup here. But even if Midnight Bourbon slips away and crushes the field, King Fury might find a way to outfinish Maxfield and Dr Post for second. He will go off at higher odds too.

Assuming Midnight Bourbon feels well and breaks sharply, expect him to dominate the field. With the class and pace advantage in his favor, anything less than a win in the Clark will come as a disappointment. With all the talk about Maxfield, maybe bettors can even receive surprising value on Midnight Bourbon.

Top selection: No. 1 Midnight Bourbon (8-5)

Use in second: No. 5 King Fury (12-1)


Win: 1

Exacta: 1 / 5

2021 Clark Stakes (G1)

Meet Reinier Macatangay

My first time at the racetrack came as a 5-year-old kid at Santa Anita Park. For most of my younger life, that was the only track I attended other the occasional visit to Hollywood Park. 

Years later, after graduating California State University, Stanislaus with an English MA, I began writing for Lady and the Track. From late 2014-2016, my articles were seen on a weekly basis and covered handicapping, interviews with well-known racing personalities, fashion and more. 

The handicapping style I use concentrates on pace analysis. Some horses are compromised by the pace. Others are helped. Handicappers just starting out cannot easily see how pace affects the finish, so with this blog, I hope to help those unsure of how to apply pace into their handicapping and post-race analysis. 

On an unrelated note, I enjoy video games and attending anime or comic-book conventions. I am currently based in Kentucky, but spend a lot of time traveling between there and California.

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