A showdown between two of the top stars in American racing looms at Churchill Downs on Friday, Nov. 29 as $5.6 million-earner Game On Dude, the beaten favorite in the recent $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic (Grade I), and Will Take Charge, who was beaten a nose by Mucho Macho Man in the Classic, head a roster 19 older horses nominated to compete in the 139th running of the $500,000-added Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI).
The 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds and up is scheduled for the popular “Black Friday” racing program on Friday, Nov. 29 and is one of four major stakes races set for the three-day Thanksgiving holiday weekend that closes out the 25-day Fall Meet.
Nominations also have been released for the $150,000-added Falls City Handicap (GII) on Thanksgiving Day. That roster is headed by Believe You Can, winner of the $1 million Kentucky Oaks (GI) in 2012.
The remaining stakes are Churchill Downs' premier races for juveniles: the $175,000-added Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) and the $175,000-added Golden Rod (GII) for 2-year-old fillies. Those races will be co-featured on “Stars of Tomorrow II,” a racing program devoted exclusively to 2-year-olds that is scheduled for closing day, Saturday, Nov. 30.
Game On Dude, owned by a partnership that includes Bernard Sciappa, the Lanni Family Trust of Terrance Lanni, Diamond Pride Stable of baseball legend Joe Torre and Ernie Moody's Mercedes Stable, is coming off a disappointing ninth-place run as the favorite in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 2.
The Bob Baffert-trained 6-year-old gelding had won six consecutive stakes races prior to the Classic, a string that included Grade I triumphs in the Santa Anita Handicap (GI), Hollywood Gold Cup (GI) and Pacific Classic (GI). His career record stands at 28-15-5-1 and a victory in the Clark could bolster Game On Dude's case for year-end Eclipse Award honors that include Horse of the Year and champion older male.
Game On Dude is expected to compete in the Clark and will be joined by Will Take Charge, the D. Wayne Lukas-trained 3-year-old who will attempt to nail down an Eclipse Award as the champion of his age group when he faces older rivals in the Clark.
Willis D. Horton's son of Unbridled's Song started his impressive campaign with a victory in the Smarty Jones at Oaklawn Park on Jan. 21. He also won the Rebel (GII) at the Arkansas track, defeating Lukas-trained stablemate and eventual Preakness (GI) winner Oxbow.
He has won four of 10 races in 2013 and his career slate stands at 14-5-3-0 with earnings of $2,727,371.
Others considered likely for the Clark are Bourbon Lane Farm's Bourbon Courage, winner of the 2012 Super Derby (GII) and third to classic winner Shackleford in the 2012 Clark; John C. Oxley's Uncaptured, winner of the 2012 Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) at Churchill Downs and the Prince of Wales at Fort Erie, the second jewel of Canada's Triple Crown; Zayat Stables LLC's Prayer for Relief, a multiple graded stakes winner with victories this year's Prairie Meadows Cornhusker (GIII) and the Governor's Cup at Remington Park; and Donegal Racing's Finnegans Wake, runner-up in the 2012 Secretariat (GI) on turf and fourth in the recent Fayette Stakes (GI) over synthetic Polytrack at Keeneland.
Considered “possible” for the Clark is Magic City Thoroughbred Partners' Golden Ticket, who dead-heated with Alpha for the win in the 2012 Travers (GI) and has turned in strong runner-up finishes this year to 2012 Breeders' Cup Classic (GI) winner Fort Larned in Churchill Downs' Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) and Goldencents in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (GI).
Complete rosters of Thanksgiving weekend stakes nominees are available on the Churchill Downs website.
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