Clark Stakes Preview and Picks for Churchill Downs

On Friday, November 26 at Churchill Downs features the biggest race since the Breeders’ Cup and that’s the Grade I Clark Stakes that has some household names like Midnight Bourbon, Maxfield, and more. I break down the Clark Stakes and the three races preceding that on the podcast and give you my Win, Place, and Show predictions.

Race 1

Post time: 1:00 PM ET
Distance: 1 1/16 miles
Type: $30,000 Maiden Claiming
Age: 3-years-old and up (fillies & mares)
Surface: Dirt

Overview: We’ll start off with a maiden claimer where someone is going to have to win despite what the past performances might indicate. I’m looking at the outside for two horses coming into this race from different classes. Seminole Beach is taking a step down in class after running poorly at richer maiden claiming races and the class relief, theoretically, should help. Meanwhile, to her outside, Rousing Siren dropped down to a $15,000 maiden claiming race last time to collect a strong second and is now stepping back up in class. Both horses have been working nicely and should like the distance. My Favorite Uncle is intriguing, but I think Keith Desormeaux is still trying to determine her best surface though distance won’t be an issue and she’s run in some more expensive races. On the far inside, Out Work’n has three consecutive third-place finishes but none of them were particularly competitive, and I think she’s compromised by distance. Southerner might give you some value as a horse also stepping down in class who hasn’t shown much to this point, but who has been working out fine and should be in a nice stalking position.

Win: Seminole Beach
Place: Southerner
Show: Rousing Siren

Race 2

Post time: 1:28 PM ET
Distance: 6 furlongs
Type: $50,000 Claiming
Age: 3-years-old and up
Surface: Dirt

Overview: The second race is a great example of where equipment changes can tell you exactly how a race will play out. There is no early speed in the field, but Dark Timber is getting blinkers added and I like for him to get sent to the front and once that happens, I think the race is over. None of the other horses possess tremendous speed or turn of foot, so I’d expect this race to be decided in the first 100 yards. Dark Timber, aside from the blinkers, has been running well lately and hitting the board in a non-graded stakes race at Gulfstream Park. He turned in a blistering four-furlong workout last week, so all signs point to an early lead and easy victory. Underneath, I do like Belfast Boy who ran well last time out after a long layoff. Oncoming Train also has the potential to run a nice race having run a career-best effort two races ago and finishing a close fourth. Big Nick has the advantage of the outside post position and should get a nice trip.

Win: Dark Timber
Place: Belfast Boy
Show: Big Nick

Race 3

Post time: 1:57 PM ET
Distance: 7 furlongs
Type: $40,000 Maiden Claiming
Age: 3-years-old and up (fillies & mares)
Surface: Dirt

Overview: There are quite a few horses in the race that provide some intrigue. Standup Or Shut Up has only raced on synthetic, but had solid dirt pedigree, particularly out of his siblings, to suggest he should be able to run well on the surface and improve his previous efforts. Closet Shopper is taking a step down in class after running for higher prize money on the Maiden Special Weight circuit where she has run some nice speed figures. November Rose is likely to go for the lead and despite only having one career race, she’s got a chance if she’s able to make a modest improvement from her debut third-place finish, but I am worried that she might be maxing out on her distance. Miss Tulsa may ultimately be a turf horse but she’s returning to dirt where she’s run against some decent horses in the past like Francis Marion. I think she’s a definite win contender given the cutback in distance. Supertaleofhoudini has been absolutely all over the place in terms of performance and class of race. She’s also on his sixth jockey in six races, which is always a red flag. Peyton’s College is probably the most consistent horse in the field and while I wouldn’t expect a win, I would expect her to hit the board.

Win: Closet Shopper
Place: Peyton’s College
Show: Miss Tulsa

Race 4

Post time: 2:27 PM ET
Distance: 1 mile
Type: $134,000 Allowance
Age: 3-years-old and up (fillies & mares)
Surface: Dirt

Overview: This race might have the lock of the day in Strong Silent winning by daylight. She’s the class of the field and despite a poor showing at the Grade II Raven Run last time out, she’s dominated high-level allowance races and her frontrunning style should ensure a smooth trip with no significant challengers. She hasn’t posted an official workout since the Raven Run, which is a little concerning, but her class and running style should render that moot. Perfect Choice and Judy’s Way are both taking a step up in competition but have shown ability, so much so that Brad Cox is now training Perfect Choice who has been working nicely at Churchill. Powder River has been regressing while Emilia’s Moon has been improving after an astonishing two-year layoff. I like her chances to hit the board.

Win: Strong Silent
Place: Perfect Choice
Show: Emilia’s Moon

Race 5

Post time: 2:57 PM ET
Distance: 6 furlongs
Type: $120,000 Maiden Special Weight
Age: 3-years-old and up (fillies & mares)
Surface: Dirt

Overview: The fifth race features some horses that have had long layoffs. First, Little Blaze is coming off over a year layoff and has only one career effort to date, which was an impressive second place at Churchill. She’s been working out well and should be a factor in the early going. Black Swan, meanwhile, is coming off a nine-month layoff and switching surface. Like Little Blaze she only has one career effort, which was a poor outing on turf but her recent workouts don’t point toward a quick rebound. On the other end of the spectrum, Anna Volante is coming off a 19-day layoff for her third $120,000 Maiden race and is cutting back to six furlongs, which should set up better for her. Twentytwenty Hoax might be a little outclassed here but has run well at lower-level maiden races at Indiana Grand. I’m bullish on first-time starter Sweet Tea (despite not liking actual sweet tea) as she’s been working out great and has a trainer with pretty good first-time starter figures.

Win: Anna Volante
Place: Sweet Tea
Show: Little Blaze

Race 6

Post time: 3:27 PM ET
Distance: 1 mile
Type: $20,000 Claiming
Age: 3-years-old and up
Surface: Dirt

Overview: Another race without clear early speed, which should play out nicely for the horses that decide to be aggressive. Nietzsche might be the horse that goes to the lead, but he hasn’t managed to do that in the last few races though he’s 5-6 hitting the board at the mile distance. Another horse that likes the mile is Cabertoss who beat Nietzsche two races ago but turned in an absolute clunker two races ago. If he’s able to revert to form, then he’s got a nice chance in this race. A horse I like this spot quite a bit is Hombrazo who just ran two weeks ago but is getting significant class relief and had been finishing respectably at the $72,000 Starter Allowance level. He should be in stalking position and will get first jump on the leader, which is ideal. Something Natural should be a reliable bet to hit the board given his past performance on the claiming circuit. Finally, Hidden Promise is a horse that’s been around the block and while he’s been running in very inexpensive claiming races, he’s capable of running above his current rate and should get an ideal trip.

Win: Hombrazo
Place: Something Natural
Show: Hidden Promise

Race 7

Post time: 3:57 PM ET
Distance: 7 furlongs
Type: $20,000 Maiden Claiming
Age: 3-years-old and up (fillies & mares)
Surface: Dirt

Overview: Normally, I would start by telling you Epicurean is going to take the early lead and then fade down the stretch, but it might not be the case this time. She’s taking a step down in class and her overall speed is better than nearly anyone else in the field. I like her chances to at least get a piece of the board at seven furlongs, which is a little surprising. Palm Court should provide her a challenge as a horse that ran well last time out despite some issues with her trip. To her immediate inside is Hail to Helen who is getting some class relief and while she’s not been overwhelming to date, she’s got a chance to overtake a lot of the horses in this field down the stretch. Joan’s Way is a consistent horse who has been running around this level of race for a while and frequently hitting the board.

Win: Hail to Helen
Place: Palm Court
Show: Epicurean

Race 8

Post time: 4:27 PM ET
Distance: 7 furlongs
Type: $30,000 Claiming
Age: 3-years-old and up
Surface: Dirt

Overview: An intriguing race with some horses dropping down in class to try to get back to their winning ways with others stepping up. One of the horses stepping down in class is Tuggle who has been headed in the wrong direction for a while and is now running claimers. I would steer clear of him because his workouts haven’t been great and his previous drops in class haven’t yielded any positive signs. Nip and Tuck may get scratched as he’s also entered for a race the day before. If he does run, then he might go the lead and may be a factor in the outcome of the race since there is no other obvious early speed in the field. Mists of Time is taking a slight step down in class having run in $50,000 claimers and for a horse that has only won once, he hits the board a lot and is a good horse to have in your exotics. Sol Del Sur is getting a cutback in distance that should really help. He’s had two nice efforts recently, but does get gassed over a mile, so the seven-furlongs should be perfect. Finally, Notable Exception is a horse I really like and is also getting class relief. Additionally, he’s running at his preferred distance and has been working out beautifully at Keeneland.

Win: Notable Exception
Place: Sol Del Sur
Show: Mists of Time

Race 9

Post time: 4:57 PM ET
Distance: 1 3/16 miles
Type: $62,500 Allowance Optional Claiming
Age: 3-years-old and up
Surface: Dirt

Overview: Interesting race with some horses that have run in big races in the past as well as horses taking to different surfaces. Goalie is a horse that intrigues me as he got gelded earlier this year and changed trainer to Robertino Diodoro who has been on fire at Churchill. However, he’s been a turf horse for his entire career, but there is plenty of dirt in his pedigree so he should be versatile and likes passing horses and making up ground. Huge Bigly made a similar transition from turf to dirt last time out and ran well at this level. Now, he’s getting a cutback in distance, which should help. I saw him run at Colonial Downs a few months back and he really digs in and does not yield easily, so I like the makeup of the horse quite a bit. Farmington Road has also been switching surfaces regularly, but I’m not convinced dirt is an effective surface. If he’s forwardly placed, he’s got a chance to hit the board, but if he breaks back then I think you can forget about him getting a piece. Allege is a Steve Asmussen horse that will also benefit from a slight cutback in distance as he gave up a lot of ground late when running at 1 ¼ miles. He’s also strung together three nice races, so it seems as if he’s headed in the right direction. Patagonia is the horse that’s the unknown since he’s not run since March 2020 but had been running well prior to that. Might be worth taking a swing at as his trainer, Jonathan Thomas, has had some success with horses taking a long layoff.

Win: Allege
Place: Huge Bigly
Show: Patagonia

Race 10

Post time: 5:28 PM ET
Distance: 1 mile
Type: $127,000 Allowance
Age: 3-years-old and up
Surface: Dirt

Overview: Another fun race that leads into the Clark Stakes. Milliken is a young horse that’s only going into his third race, but he ran a monster effort last time out and if he runs close to that well again then he will win. Distance shouldn’t be an issue for him and his workouts have been spectacular. Now, both Flags Up and Angkor are both “every other race” type horses as they alternate between strong efforts and poor showings. Both ran well last time out and would seem to be scheduled for a dud. I don’t think both will misfire, so I’m going to lean toward Flags Up who ran behind Angkor last time out but has been working out well and has a hot jockey in Rafael Bejarano. Plus, some of his previous poor results have been correlated with big steps up in class and surface change. For this race, he’s on the right surface at the right level, so I think he fires. Injunction might get a lot of money and is a good horse coming off breaking his maiden, but I’m worried about distance seeing that he’s faded before at a mile. Gentle Soul is the horse I like here to add some value to your exotics as he’s taking a step back in distance to a mile where he soundly defeated Injunction three races ago. David Cohen, his jockey, has been riding well and I think the horse is due for a nice effort.

Race 11

Post time: 5:56 PM ET
Distance: 1 1/8 miles
Type: Clark Stakes – Grade I
Age: 3-years-old and up
Surface: Dirt

Overview: The race of the day, and perhaps the race of the week, will not disappoint. Only a few weeks after the Breeders’ Cup we get a matchup against two horses that were eligible for the Breeders’ Cup Classic—Midnight Bourbon (9-5) and Maxfield (2-1). Interestingly, one of them (Midnight Bourbon) will break from the #1 post and the other (Maxfield) will break from the far outside #8 post. Several commentators have discussed the potential disadvantage Midnight Bourbon will face breaking from the far inside, and while that’s true, the race sets up beautifully for him otherwise. On paper, nobody should challenge him for the early lead, which is something he had to contend with at the Pennsylvania Derby against Hot Rod Charlie and at the Preakness against Medina Spirit. Alone on the lead, he will be able to set a reasonable pace and make sure he’s got plenty left in the stretch. He’s a gutty horse who I think runs up to his level of competition, but there are concerns that he seems to always come in second. Those are valid concerns against such a good field. Maxfield, on the other hand, likes to win having won seven of ten career racing and never missing the board. He’s not won as much lately as he’s been running against the likes of Art Collector and Knicks Go. He should be sitting in a good position to make a run at Midnight Bourbon down the stretch. Another important note, he’s a perfect four of four at Churchill Downs. Now, it’s more than a two-horse race and I think Happy Saver (9-2) will get a beautiful trip. The race sets up nicely for this Todd Pletcher horse who likes to sit in a stalking position and should be able to easily get to his preferred spot. He’ll likely get the first jump on Midnight Bourbon, and he’s been remarkably consistent at high-graded stakes races. If both top two falter, I think he’s the most likely pick to win. Several people are high on King Fury (8-1) but I’m not one of them. Yes, Ken McPeek and Brian Hernandez Jr. are winning a lot of races and he drew a good post position, but at some point, it comes down to the horse and King Fury is just a cut below when he runs against the best. He got demolished at the Travers by Essential Quality and Midnight Bourbon and he finished eight lengths back at the Fayette Stakes, though you might excuse that finish given the track conditions. Still, he’s going to need his career-best effort to win this race and potentially even hit the board and that’s a lot to ask out of a horse that doesn’t have the best track record when stepping up in class. Dr Post (5-1) is the other Todd Pletcher horse and while I like this horse quite a bit and he’s got the speed to run with the top two, I don’t think the race sets up well for him. Midnight Bourbon will set a reasonable pace and Dr Post, coming from way off the lead, will not have a ton of speed to run into and I’m not sure I expect him to pass horses of this caliber down the stretch. If, for some reason, Midnight Bourbon bolts and sets a hot pace, then Dr Post has a chance, but I’m not sure I see it playing out that way. At the end of the day, I’ve been telling everyone that Midnight Bourbon’s four-year-old campaign is going to be the best in the country. I think he gets an early jump on what should be a special 2022 for him.

Win: Midnight Bourbon (9-5)
Place: Maxfield (2-1)
Show: Happy Saver (9-2)

Race 12

Post time: 6:24 PM ET
Distance: 6 ½ furlongs
Type: $50,000 Starter Allowance
Age: 3-years-old and up
Surface: Dirt

Overview: The final race will be quite the sprint and not just because of the distance but because of the speed. Pirate Rick, Mish, and Tango Charlie all love getting to the lead, and it could lead to quite the speed duel. While early speed is typically deadly in dirt sprints, I’m worried it might cook the leaders and someone from off the pace will clean up the pieces. Cousteau and One Fast Cat might be in good position, but I’m worried that Cousteau, fresh off breaking his maiden might get outclassed by the pace while One Fast Cat got soundly beaten by multiple horses in this field that last time out. I like for On Your Mark and Greener Pastures to be a bit more forwardly placed in midpack position where they can take advantage of the early speed. Ultimately, I think which over of the three-speed horses decides to stalk will be the one who wins, but it’s hard to figure who that will be. I’m leaning toward Mish as he’s taken that approach before, and the trainer/jockey combination is paying off nicely.

Win: Mish
Place: On Your Mark
Show: Greener Pastures

Get all of Matthew’s horse racing coverage by following him on Twitter at @failedtomenace, by subscribing to Amalfi Media’s YouTube channel, and following The Win Place Show podcast.

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Join the Conversation

  1. First time listener. Thank you for your hard work. I know the effort that it takes to break down a race. The level of detail that you provide really allows for making selections with a sence of confidence which is something I tend to lack. Thank you for helping to provide that extra bit of confidence. I will be using your selections this Friday at Churchill. Good luck!

    1. Matthew’s brother, Nathaniel, here. Thanks for the comment! Matthew puts a lot of effort into his horse racing analysis. Happy to see that you’re finding value in it!
      -Natty

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