Gun Runner looks to topple elders in Clark

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

November 22nd, 2016

Gun Runner, exiting a solid second-place effort in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1), will be the only three-year-old in a cast of 10 lining up in the $500,000 Clark H. (G1), the traditional Black Friday feature at Churchill Downs.

The decision to go in the Dirt Mile rather than the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) for the colt's first attempt against older rivals looks a good one in retrospect given the display turned in by Arrogate and California Chrome in the latter. The 1 1/8-mile Clark is not an easy race by any stretch, but the son of Candy Ride does fit on recent form.

Hero of the Risen Star (G2) and Louisiana Derby (G2), Gun Runner finished third in the Kentucky Derby (G1) before taking the Matt Winn (G3) over the Churchill strip in June. Although fifth in a sloppy Haskell Invitational (G1) and a distant third to Arrogate in the Travers (G1), the Steve Asmussen pupil narrowly missed to Connect in the Pennsylvania Derby (G2) before his runner-up to Tamarkuz in the Dirt Mile.

Noble Bird, who has done so well over the Churchill track in taking the 2015 Stephen Foster H. (G1) and $175,000 Lukas Classic two back, enters the Clark off a track-record performance in the Fayette (G2) at Keeneland. The Mark Casse charge is a major threat to take them all the way if he can avoid being softened up by minor speed threat Mr. Z.

The mini-rivalry between Effinex and Hoppertunity continues in the Clark. The pair finished one-two, separated by three-quarters of a length, in last year's Clark, with the roles reversed in the October 8 Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) at Belmont. In the Breeders' Cup Classic, Hoppertunity rallied for fourth while Effinex faded to seventh

Both Effinex and Hoppertunity, who won the Clark as a three-year-old in 2014, are looking to become the first two-time winner of the 142-year fixture since Bob's Dusty (1977-78).

Effinex's trainer, Jimmy Jerkens, also has Shaman Ghost in the Clark. Winner of the Queen's Plate last season and the Brooklyn (G2) over 1 1/2 miles in June, the Frank Stronach homebred stepped up his game to deny heavy favorite Frosted in the Woodward (G1) at Saratoga in early September. Unfortunately, the colt was a late withdrawal from the Breeders' Cup Classic after spiking a fever.

Breaking Lucky, also a Canadian classic winner last year in the Prince of Wales at Fort Erie, was only a neck fourth behind Shaman Ghost in the Woodward, and is undoubtedly better than what he showed as the beaten favorite in the Lukas Classic.

Harmonize and Hawksmoor, both of whom nearly pulled off an upset in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) at Keeneland last month, are the horses to beat in the $200,000 Mrs. Revere (G2), a 1 1/16-mile turf stakes for three-year-old fillies. Harmonize, who peaked in the Del Mar Oaks (G1) two back, and German 1000 Guineas (G1) heroine Hawksmoor both missed by a head to Time and Motion in a three-way photo.

The Mrs. Revere field also includes Linda, runner-up in the Valley View (G3) last time on soft ground; Pucker Up (G3) winner Noble Beauty, who also finished second in the Regret (G3) and Commonwealth Oaks (G3); and Caren, a Canadian invader who enters on a four-race win streak.

(Hodges Photography)