Trainer Al Stall, Jr. has believed in G M B Racing's Tom's d'Etat since the beginning, but it took the entirety of 2019 for the horse to prove him right.
Sent off as the 4-5 favorite in Friday's Grade 1 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs, the 6-year-old son of Smart Strike more than lived up to those odds in his first Grade 1 victory. Jockey Joel Rosario was well clear of the field in the final sixteenth and geared his mount down, making the margin of victory about 2 1/2 lengths at the wire. The final time for ran nine furlongs over the fast main track was 1:48.84.
“There are a lot of Grade I horses in this game that don't make Grade I races,” said Stall, who also won the 2009 Clark with eventual 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic (GI) winner Blame. “To have a horse like this is extremely special for our entire barn. The care this horse gets day in and day out is amazing.”
It took time and patience for Tom's d'Etat to blossom into a Grade 1 winner. After overcoming early physical issues, the horse jumped out into the top level of the sport in 2019 with an ambitious entry in the Pegasus World Cup. Ninth there, Tom's d'Etat couldn't find the winner's circle until dropped down into listed company in August, when he won the Alydar Stakes at Saratoga.
Subsequently fourth in the G1 Woodward, Tom's d'Etat rebounded to get his first graded stakes scored at Keeneland in October, winning the G2 Fayette by 4 1/4 lengths. That performance led to his entry in the Clark, and Tom's d'Etat finally rewarded Stall's long-lasting faith in him.
“He ran unbelievable,” said Rosario. “It was such a good effort from him tonight to be able to sit behind the speed like that. He had such a strong kick in the stretch and won easily.”
With plenty of speed signed on for the Clark, there was a four-way tussle for the lead in the first eighth of a mile. New York-bred Mr. Buff finally won out and pulled away to a one-length advantage over the duo of Mr Freeze and Fact Finding, with Major Cabbie pressing the issue between those two. The first quarter went in a sharp 23.02 seconds, with Tom's d'Etat perfectly placed toward the inside in sixth heading into the backstretch.
Mr. Buff clocked the half-mile fraction in :47.43, but started to get pressure from Mr Freeze heading into the far turn. Alvarado followed Mr Freeze into contention, challenging that rival at the head of the lane. As soon as Tom's d'Etat caught sight of the wire, he kicked in willingly and pulled away from the field to a convincing lead.
Eased down in the final 100 yards, Tom's d'Etat won by about 2 1/2 lengths on the wire. Closing from the rear of the field, Owendale charged through the pack of horses to nip Mr Freeze on the wire for second, and Draft Pick finished fourth.
Bred in Kentucky by SF Bloodstock, Tom's d'Etat is out of the stakes-winning Giant's Causeway mare Julia Tuttle. A $330,000 yearling purchase at the Keeneland September sale, the horse has now earned over $1.2 million with a record of nine wins from 16 career starts.
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