Friday, November 25, 2011

The Nomination Is In: The Grade 1 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs

Baseball fans get all misty eyed talking about Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, and as a hockey fan, I was saddened to see our Buffalo Memorial Auditorium condemned and knocked down in the name of luxury suites and more concessions. There is something special about these old places; places you shared highs and lows with, maybe with your father, your friends, your girlfriend, now your wife, your children.

Fenway and Wrigley were built in 1911 and 1914 respectively. Churchill Downs has existed since 1875, with the iconic twin spires going up in 1895. The driving force behind the creation of the track was Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark, grandson of the famous American explorer, General William Clark of the William and Clark expedition of 1804-1806, the first transcontinental expedition of the United States, and whose mother was from one of Kentucky's first and leading families, the Churchill's.

At the age of 29, Meriwether Clark saw the first edition of this race run. As in all things in life, you don't really own something unless you really own it, and his mother's two brothers left the land to others after their death and Meriwether found himself as nothing more than a race steward by 1897. Already hurt deeply by poor financial investments, and followed by the loss of the track, Meriwether committed suicide in 1899 at the age of 53 years old. One can't help but think he stands along the rail along with all the other horse players we've said goodbye to over the years, players like Shawn Murphy, Rose Rizzo and Tiznow Reynolds, watching our equine heroes run over the same route of dirt in the South of Louisville that he walked so many years ago.

I love old racetracks. I stare out at the track and I see and hear the ghosts of races past thundering up the stretch. The Clark Handicap is a tradition of mine, a wonderful post Thanksgiving Day event that I look forward too, an echo of the season that has essentially concluded, a harbinger of the coming winter, and a hint of handicap division to come once the sun returns.

I'd be remiss if I didn't give my thanks to The Thorofan, and their Handicappers Corner for the opportunity to write about today's race. I am thankful in these economic times for the means to write these types of articles; I thank my employer. I thank my loving family. I cherish my friends even though the introvert that I am doesn't make me a very social friend. I thank my pets.

Let's get after this!

When people ask me what I'd like as a horse player, THIS is what I describe: a greater than 10 horse field, with trainers aggressively running their well conditioned animals back to the track on short rest (relative to the times we live in), and just alot of parity in the starting gate.

My base handicap reflects that parity. There are plenty of horses to spread money around and the tote board favorite most likely will be Flat Out: the five year old son of Flatter was the Breeders' Cup Classic chalk just three weeks ago. He'll be in my top four from a betting perspective but I'm placing him down a bit in the handicap. There's little to dislike with Flat Out but this is gambling, not play it safe "handi-pandering", so I'm going to place Mission Impazzible on top for what would be his biggest win so far. Trainer Pletcher is 25% in 2nd races off 45-180 layoffs and Mission Impazzible has been training sharply at Churchill since his first run back at KEE as the well beaten chalk. Has ran well here, including a loss by a neck in the Stephen Foster and he also didn't embarrass himself in the Woodward.

I'm a superfecta bettor usually, but this race is a true dichotomy for me: I love it as a race fan, but as a bettor there are much easier marks. That said, it's an interesting race that will require some thought on the bet construction. Where the pace comes from besides a well outclassed Will's Wildcat, I'm not sure. The bet comes after that handicap so let's keep trudging through that. By the way, the track should be fast. It's an important point that you need to always identify before going to far.

Ruler on Ice was up for Show in the Breeders Cup Classic, making a very hard late run. He's been firing since the Belmont Stakes but at some point he's going to want to run back to the farm. On class and guts alone I'll place him in the top four, but his post position and his 9 previous starts this may catch up to him.

Wise Dan was the bettors second choice that pounded Mission Impazzible at KEE last time out. He ran twice on dirt in 2011 at Churchill Downs, two weak efforts, one as the chalk. He's winless on fast dirt, has two slop wins, 4 fake dirt and turf win in his resume. His placement in my handicap is his high water mark and most of my tickets will have him 4th or out of the money.

As is the case sometimes, as I'm writing this I find myself making a case for the horses I have lower in the handicap. The horses I have listed in my exotic pool are all more than capable of Place and Show. Mister Marti Gras won the Ack Ack here Breeders' Cup weekend. He's 6 of 8 in the money in 2011 11 of 18 in the money the past two years, with 1 win at CD, 1 win at the distance and 1 fast dirt win. Trainer Block has super trainer-esque stats, 26% on Dirt and 23% of Graded Stakes, as well as 26% won last start.

Prayers for Relief has been training lights out at Santa Anita, :46 2/5ths at 4f and 1:11 3/5 at 5f; The Iowa, West Virginia and Super Derby winner, falling short and out finished in the Oaklahoma Derby last time out. An exciting horse and someone to look forward to next year, he could finish anywhere on the board. Did I mention parity?

Headache had a great view of the Breeders' Cup Classic, at the back of the pack. The five year old had a great year, winning the Cornhusker and the Hawthorne Gold Cup. 8 Wins in 19 starts on fast dirt, 3 Churchill Downs wins in 8 tries.

General Quarters, the poor man's Musket Man. His 27th career start for the 5 year old trained by Tom McCarthy. Hasn't run well in a big spot in awhile with the exception of a gutty place over fake dirt two back.

Eight runners I've "layered" somewhere into the top four. Five horses I've tossed. I've done this long enough to know there is a good chance I'll be discussing how one of the five I tossed messed up my superfecta, but you can't cover everyone.

So what will I do with with this:

Maybe it's the Turkey Hangover, I just don't have a great read on the Superfecta. I've assembled a $400 dollar ish $2 Super that I won't play, a much cheaper version that is much cheaper but I'm not sure if its any good and and low priced trifecta that may be too chalky to be worth the bet.

You never get hoodwinked by The Turk, if I don't have an opinion, I don't have an opinion. I could play the 10 cent or $1 variety of Superfectas today or I may just scour the tote board and take $10 and assemble 5 fun exacta's with Mr. Marti Gras and Mission Impazzible playing with some underlays.

There you have have, a Turk tossing out a turkey of a handicap on Clark Handicap day. Sometimes the wishbone doesn't break your way.

Have fun friends, Turk out!


trakgal said...

What a nice historical account - just love that you make The Clark Handicap an annual traditional affair!

The Turk said...

Thanks trakgal; I have certain races that are very special to me. The Clark and Cigar Mile weekend is the end of the year for me and it all starts again in big circle.

Thanks for reading and commenting. please come again.