Pletcher duo looms large in Clark, siding with Protonico at a better price

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November 27th, 2015

The $500,000 Clark H. (G1) headlines a 12-race program at Churchill Downs Friday and the eight-horse field features plenty of depth.

Hoppertunity will make a title defense in the 1 1/8-mile event, morning-line favorite Effinex exits a runner-up finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Keen Ice was the only horse to beat American Pharoah this year, capturing the Travers Stakes two starts previously. Despite the virtues of the aforementioned trio, I'll give top billing to a pair of Grade 2 winners from the Todd Pletcher stable.

Race Day will take some beating following a smart victory in the October 30 Fayette Stakes at Keeneland, returning to the winner’s circle for the first time since a decisive 3 ¾-length victory in the Oaklawn H. in mid-April. Race Day got sick shortly after the Oaklawn race and was making his third start back from a layoff in the Fayette.

Protonico has similar credentials to Race Day, displaying powerful form when reeling off wins in the Ben Ali Stakes and Alysheba Stakes this spring before missing four months of action due to an illness. The 4-year-old returned from the freshening with a dull effort in the Woodward Stakes at Saratoga before improving with a solid fifth in the Fayette.

The Clark represents the third start back from a layoff for Protonico and I’ll look for his best. His BRIS Speed ratings this spring, a 107 for both the Ben Ali and Alysheba, are good enough to win and the Giant’s Causeway colt’s affinity for the oval is a key attribute, with Protonico defeating an outstanding Alysheba field on the Kentucky Oaks undercard that included subsequent Stephen Foster winner Noble Bird and subsequent Met Mile winner Honor Code.

The dark bay possesses good tactical speed and Protonico receives a weight advantage under a 117-pound Clark impost, with Effinex (122), Race Day (122), Hoppertunity (121) and Keen Ice (120) all giving him at least three pounds.

Protonico threatened to win last year’s Clark, rallying boldly to miss by a half-length in second, and should be set for an optimal performance today.

I’ll play Protonico to win and key him in most exotics, saving with an exacta box with formidable stablemate Race Day, who must overcome the far outside post after receiving a perfect trip from an inside gate last time.

Two other stakes will be offered on the Friday card.

The Commonwealth Turf has nine sophomores going 1 1/16 miles on turf (following a couple of early scratches) and there appears to be plenty of pace present, with confirmed speedster One Go All Go facing several rivals with early zip, including the in-form Obsidian Splendor.

I loved the late kick displayed by Quality Bird last time at Keeneland, mowing down a nice field of older rivals to win going away by 1 ½ lengths, and the son of Quality Road appears to have a bright future on turf for trainer Ian Wilkes.

Quality Bird didn’t make his turf bow until two starts previously, experiencing a wide trip before closing dramatically to be a narrow third in the Centaur Stakes at Indiana Downs, and improved upon the performance last time. His BRIS Late Pace ratings are first-rate and the up-and-coming colt will receive the right set-up in a contentious affair – an upset pick at 12-1 on the morning line.

In the 6-furlong Dream Supreme, Milam exits an encouraging win over the track and appears to be rounding into top form for trainer Eddie Kenneally. She draws well on the outside in a race featuring plenty of pace and can be along in time with Corey Lanerie.

Good luck today!

Protonico photo courtesy of Wendy Wooley/EquiSport Photos