Trainer Al Stall Jr. planned to point Tom's d'Etat to the Nov. 29 Clark Stakes presented by Norton Healthcare at Churchill Downs from the moment the 6-year-old son of Smart Strike finished clear in Keeneland's Oct. 26 Hagyard Fayette Stakes.
That plan was masterful, as Tom's d'Etat coasted to a 3 ¼-length victory in the $600,000 feature Friday night. It was the first Grade 1 victory for the G M B Racing runner, who earned his first graded score in the Fayette.
"You can have a horse that's a great looking horse and he does everything right, he breezes lights out all the time, but you can't tell who's a Grade 1 horse until you actually throw them in there," said Stall, who won the Clark a decade ago with Blame. "He's always been the right kind of horse in our mind, but you have to prove it on the racetrack."
Connections have shown both their faith and patience in Tom's d'Etat. After breaking his maiden at 3 and picking up a trio of allowance level wins at 4, Tom's d'Etat was put on the shelf for over a year. He won his return in the fall of his 5-year-old season before winning the Tenacious Stakes at Fair Grounds.
Tom's d'Etat began this year with a ninth-place run in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes at Gulfstream Park, but has been a consistent performer since. He placed in a pair of Grade 2 events, won the Alydar Stakes at Saratoga Race Course and then ran fourth in the Woodward Stakes there prior to his back-to-back wins in the Fayette and Clark.
Joel Rosario, who has won with Tom's d'Etat the four times he's ridden the horse, was back aboard for the Clark. In the backstretch, Tom's d'Etat was tucked in midpack of the 11-horse field, sitting in sixth as Mr. Buff set fast early fractions on the lead. By the time the pacesetter ran six furlongs in 1:11.82, Tom's d'Etat was up into fourth. Rosario asked Tom's d'Etat, the 9-10 favorite, to go at the five-sixteenths pole and the horse ran on to an easy victory.
The final time for the 1 1/8 miles was 1:48.84 on a fast track.
"He ran unbelievable," said Rosario, who collected his first Clark victory. "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."
Multiple Grade 3 winner Owendale rallied from last to get up for second by a head over Mr. Freeze. It was the second Grade 1 placing for Owendale, who finished third in the Preakness Stakes back in May.
G M B Racing bought Tom’s d’Etat for $330,000 at the 2014 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. The Clark victory pushed the bay into millionaire status, with total earnings of $1,236,572 from a 9-2-1 record in 16 starts.
"It was very satisfying," Stall said of Tom d'Etat's Clark win. "There's a lot of Grade 1 horses in this game that don't make it to Grade 1s. For him to persevere, for the owners to persevere, for our crew to persevere...
“And you can't believe the care this horse gets on a day-to-day basis. I'm surprised he's not fat from grazing so much," Stall joked.
Stall said the connections are open to multiple options going forward. There's been calls received expressing interest in Tom's d'Etat as a stallion, but he could also continue his racing career at 7.
"We're just going to do what's right for that animal," the trainer said. "I can tell you that right now."