How to Bet the 2018 Clark Handicap
by SCOTT SHAPIRO
The Clark Handicap (G1) headlines a strong 12-race card on the final Friday of live racing in 2018 at historic Churchill Downs. The $500,000 event conducted at 1 1/8 miles drew a field of eight headlined by the runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1), Seeking the Soul, and Fayette (G2) winner Leofric. Here are my thoughts:
#3 Seeking the Soul stretches back out to two turns after competing over Churchill’s one-turn mile in each of his last two starts for trainer Dallas Stewart. Two-back in the Ack Ack (G3), the son of Perfect Soul sat closer than usual to a slow early pace and powered home to a 1 1/4- length score under jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr. Earlier this month in the aforementioned Dirt Mile, the five-year-old found his more customary spot several lengths off the pace and was no match for the eventual winner City of Light, but did run on well late to finish second.
Seeking the Soul is the deserving 8-5-morning line favorite based on his class as the defending champion and current form and should get an honest pace to run at in the Clark, but I always think twice before backing a short-priced, off-the-pace runner stretching back out from one to two turns. I expect the six-time winner to come with his run in the lane, but am concerned it will not be enough to run this entire group down.
#5 Leofric makes his second start of the form cycle after a gutsy head victory over #1 Prime Attraction over a muddy Keeneland main track on October 27. The son of Candy Ride has had a strong 2018 winning four of his six starts and earning over $491K. He made his first start against Grade 1 competition in early September at Saratoga in the Woodward where he finished a solid third to Yoshida and Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) runner-up Gunnevera.
Leofric’s ability to race either right off the pace or come from a few lengths out of it should serve him well in the 2018 Clark where there is tactical speed drawn to both his inside and outside. Assuming jockey Florent Geroux can avoid getting caught in an uncomfortable spot between rivals or in an early battle on the front end, I like his chances to get the jump on Seeking the Soul and to have enough to hold him off late.
#6 Bravazo raced a bit further off the pace than normal on the cutback in distance in his initial try versus older horses last time out in the Dirt Mile. The Calumet Farm homebred swung wide into the lane and grinded out his sixth in-the-money finish in 10 tries in his three-year-old campaign, but never threatened the top two finishers. I respect the heart and tenacity of this son of Awesome Again, but suspect an underneath effort is best case scenario on Friday afternoon.
Prime Attraction sped to the lead and battled Leofric to the wire during his second-place finish in the Fayette for veteran conditioner James Cassidy. The DP Racing runner has yet to win in six starts in 2018, but has hit the board 4 times. I would be surprised if he found the winners’ circle in this first start over the Churchill Downs main track in the Clark, but his speed and inside draw make him a logical contender to earn a minor share.
#2 Hence and #4 Hawaakom will need a hot early pace to have a chance to run on late for a piece. #7 Storm Advisory and #8 Sightforsoreeyes should be factors in the early going, but are all but certain to be overmatched when the real running begins.
Here is I recommend wagering on the 2018 Clark Handicap:
$50 Win 5
Leofric photo courtesy of Keeneland/ Coady Photography