Effinex confirms his class in Clark victory
Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up Effinex carried his form forward in Friday’s $500,000 Clark H. (G1) at Churchill Downs, rallying to a short lead in upper stretch and gamely withstanding the late bid of 2014 Clark winner Hoppertunity to score by three-quarters of a length. A New York-bred son of Mineshaft, the Jimmy Jerkens-trained colt registered his first Grade 1 victory.
The winner left the starting gate as a slight 5-2 favorite over a deep field of seven rivals.
Jockey Mike Smith was up on the 4-year-old, who improved significantly this season. The dark bay notched his first stakes win over state-bred rivals in Empire Classic 13 months ago.
After opening 2015 with an easy allowance tally, Effinex defeated open rivals in the Excelsior (G3) at Aqueduct in late April and two starts later added the Suburban H. (G2) at Belmont Park, narrowly defeating the well-regarded Tonalist by a head.
Effinex went on to finish fourth in the Woodward (G1) and third in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) before recording a top-class performance behind American Pharoah in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, 4 ½ lengths better than Honor Code in third. He flattered the Triple Crown winner on Friday and figures to receive some consideration for the older male Eclipse Award given the last two outstanding efforts and Suburban win.
“He ran so well last time and it looked like he never missed a beat with his training and everything else afterwards so that’s why we decided to come (for the Clark),” Jerkens said. “We broke a step slow and then they kind of converged on him and they went like a bat out of hell so he just sat there and went in behind them.
“He’s just a good quality horse. He’s really come around since that weird effort at Saratoga (the Woodward Stakes three starts previously) where he went crazy from behind the gate…he’s been all business since then.”
Jerkens was asked about future plans.
“Maybe we’ll send him to Florida, I don’t know yet. He’s such a tough horse, as long as there’s someone around taking good care of him that’s all he cares about.”
Mr. Z and Shotgun Kowboy battled up front during the early stages of the Clark, contesting splits of :23.43 and :47.68 before starting to weaken. Effinex raced within striking range in midpack as the field made its way down the backstretch and began to edge forward while wide on the far turn.
Race Day was the first to strike from just off the pace, taking the lead on the far turn and reaching the three-quarters mark in 1:11.64. Effinex swung six wide into the stretch and overhauled Race Day as he straightened for home, passing the mile mark in 1:36.10 with a head advantage.
Hoppertunity, the 5-2 second choice in the wagering, offered a determined late bid from off the pace to reach a threatening position in upper stretch but could not catch the winner. Looks to Spare, the longest shot on the board at 88-1, closed surprisingly up the rail to be a factor in midstretch and wound a neck back of the runner-up in third. Keen Ice, the Travers (G1) winner and Breeders’ Cup Classic fourth-placer, waited too long to offer his best stride, closing dramatically into the frame late to miss third by a head in fourth.
Next came Race Day, Protonico, Shotgun Kowboy and Mr. Z. Frivolous was withdrawn.
Effinex completed the 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:48.92.
“He’s done some quirky things,” Smith said. “He’s bolted before, he’ll switch leads in the middle of the turn with you to the right, which is very odd for a horse to do that. He’ll kind of throw himself off and I just took a long hold and keep my hands down and just let him get comfortable with himself. Every move he does, I just go with it and it seems to work out well.
“So far, so good. I’m very blessed, just to get the opportunities like this. I always love coming in and getting to ride these good horses and when you point these good horses in the right direction and stay out of their way, you get results like this.”
Bred by Dr. Russell S. Cohen, Effinex is owned by Tri-Bone Stables. He’s out of the stakes-winning E Dubai mare What a Pear and counts Best in Show, the 1982 Broodmare of the Year, as his fourth maternal dam.
Effinex has now earned $2,112,950 from a 20-7-2-3 record.
Clark Also-Ran Quotes:
MARTIN GARCIA, jockey of HOPPERTUNITY (second): “The other two horses (Mr. Z and Shotgun Kowboy) showed the speed and I tried to follow them. The speed was fine here all day long and I didn’t want to be too far back. My horse ran a big race but I just couldn’t pass the other one (Effinex). The other one is a really, really nice horse. When I got next to him, he just took off. I couldn’t pass him. But my horse ran a nice race. I got beat by a good horse.”
VICTOR LEBRON, jockey of LOOKS TO SPARE (third): “We had a bad break. The horse got a little erratic as soon as they shut the last door (in the starting gate). He just hopped out in the air. At that moment I had to give away three or four lengths and had to go to Plan B, which was sit and wait and make the one run at the end. I mean, he’s a nice horse. Once I pulled the trigger on him to go, he was there and responded quick.”
DALE ROMANS, trainer of KEEN ICE (fourth): “I think that he proved he can run with anybody and that a mile-and-a-quarter is his game. I really think he’s going to be the best handicap horse by the end of next year. It’ll be up to (Donegal Racing manager partner) Jerry (Crawford) but I’d love to win a $10 million race with him (Dubai World Cup).”
COREY LANERIE, jockey of KEEN ICE (fourth): “He ran big. I got farther back than I wanted to but I had to just kind of let him find his stride without asking him. I wanted him to finish for me. I had a perfect trip. We came right up the middle and at one point I thought I was going to get nothing. Then he kicked it in and showed his heart and found some more. It was a little late but another couple of jumps and I think he wins.”
JOHN VELAZQUEZ, jockey of RACE DAY (fifth): “I had a perfect trip in the right position. We were drafting right behind the two leaders down the backstretch and got to the half-mile pole with the winner (Effinex) next to me. The winner kept running and mine didn’t.”
Effinex photo courtesy of Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography