Recognizable Names, Deep Field: The Clark Stakes Has it All

Together, the $500,000 Clark Stakes field owns 22 stakes victories, 60 overall wins and more than $12.6 million in earnings. And even in this topsy-turvy, runaway-roller coaster year, the traditional Black Friday headliner at Churchill Downs remains one of the most popular races on the late-season schedule.

By My Standards-Clark
By My Standards seeks his first Grade 1 victory in the $500,000 Clark Stakes. He is the 4/1 second favorite. (Image: Coady Photography/Churchill Downs)

For the first time since 2009, the Grade 1 Clark sends a full field of 14 older horses out on its 1 1/8-mile trek. It was actually oversubscribed, with 15 horses entered. Brazilian horse In Love is the odd horse out, entering the gate at 50/1 only if someone scratches before Friday’s post time.

Named for Col. M. Lewis Clark, the founder of the Louisville Jockey Club, which built Churchill Downs, the Clark dates to 1875. That was Churchill Downs’ opening season. As you would expect with a race sporting this history, its winner’s roll is replete with legends, such as Whirlaway (1942), Silver Charm (1998), Blame (2009), Wise Dan (2011), Shackelford (2012), Gun Runner (2017) and last year’s champion, Tom’s d’Etat.

Trying to join that august list are horses sporting credentials of their own, starting with favored Code of Honor (3/1). The 2019 Kentucky Derby runner-up and multiple-Grade 1 winner returns to the Twin Spires for the first time since that Derby placing. He does so seeking his first victory since June in a two-turn race more to his liking.

Can Code of Honor Solve His Summer Problems?

Riding a three-race losing streak, Code of Honor trainer Shug McGaughey said scheduling played a big part in the 4-year-old’s summer swoon, which included a third in the Metropolitan Mile, a fourth in the Whitney and a second in the Kelso.

“The Metropolitan Mile is a prestigious race, so we decided to run in that race,” McGaughey told Churchill Downs. He was doing really good and he ran a really good race that day. I think if we may have missed that, we could’ve made a better showing in the Whitney.”

One of his chief threats in the Clark, By My Standards (4/1), would take a better showing than what he showed last out. That was a poor eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, By My Standards’ worst finish since his 11th in the 2019 Kentucky Derby and his only off-the-board finish in 2020.

By My Standards Owns Best Nine-Furlong Time In Field

On the plus side, By My Standards came out of that Derby rolling. He won his next three races, threw in a couple seconds – including this year’s Whitney – then captured the Alysheba Stakes at Churchill Downs in September. His 1:47.8 clocking en route to the Oaklawn Handicap title is the best 1 1/8-mile time in the field.

“He loves this track at Churchill Downs, so I think he’ll do a lot better getting back here,” said jockey Gabriel Saez. “We didn’t get the best of trips in the Breeders’ Cup and he didn’t like the surface that day. He worked really well (last Friday). He just has such a big stride and covers a lot of ground.”

Go beyond those two and you find two more graded stakes winners with Clark placings: Owendale (5/1) and Mr. Freeze (6/1). Owendale finished second in last year’s Clark to Tom’s d’Etat and the three-time Grade 3 winner is quite comfortable under the Twin Spires. He opened his season winning the Blame Stakes at Churchill Downs.

Another Into Mischief Progeny Making His Mark

The Into Mischief son finished second to By My Standards in that Alysheba and trainer Brad Cox said the lack of pace in that race taught him something in terms of approaching the Clark.

“In the Alysheba, there was no pace,” he said. “He doesn’t really like kickback, so we have to make sure he gets out in the clear. I think his efforts this year have put him back in contention with some of the older horses in this handicap division.”

That company includes Mr. Freeze, who finished third in last year’s Clark. Like Owendale, Mr. Freeze is a multiple stakes winner who seems to be a step behind the elite horses. He came out of that Clark finishing second in the 2020 Pegasus World Cup, albeit by 4 ½ lengths.

Depth in the Clark Stakes Gives Bettors Exotic Options

Three others to ponder for exotics are Aurelius Maximus (8/1), Bodexpress (8/1) and Silver Prospector (15/1). Aurelius Maximus owns a pair of allowance victories, while Silver Prospector was on the Derby Trail, taking last year’s Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club and this year’s Grade 3 Southwest Stakes. In that former race, he beat one Tiz the Law.

And Bodexpress – known for dumping John Velazquez at the beginning of the 2019 Preakness – enters the fray off an 11 ¼-length blitzing in a Gulfstream Park West allowance.

The Pick: Code of Honor. All the pieces that brought him $2.2 million in earnings fall into place here: two turns, plenty of rest and Churchill Downs. But this race provides potential for a big score based on its depth and live underdogs.

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